"So that trade went through, huh?" he asked.
Of all the ways to describe Manuel as a major-league manager, know this: He is a realist. Manuel realizes there probably won't be a pitcher with Oswalt's resume arriving by tomorrow's trade deadline. And with the Houston ace joining a division rival's rotation, he understands the Mets' margin for error just got that much smaller.
"We have to play extremely well with the group we have," Manuel said. "We are capable of doing that. [But] things really have to go our way."
That's not exactly an inspiring rallying cry for fans hoping their team will make a big splash this weekend, but you have to respect Manuel's openness and clarity. Note that he is speaking from experience, because the only reason the Mets are even in the playoff conversation is because some things have thoroughly gone their way.
Look no further than R.A. Dickey, yesterday's starting pitcher.
In the offseason, the Mets chose not to sign any of the free-agent starting pitchers of significance, a decision that was widely criticized. But they did sign Dickey, and all he's done is perform better than each one of those free-agent pitchers.
Call it luck if you want, but the Mets are overwhelmingly better off for remaining silent last winter on the pitching front.
John Lackey has a 1.49 WHIP for Boston. Randy Wolf has a 5.07 ERA for Milwaukee. Oakland's Ben Sheets is dealing with a another career-threatening elbow injury. The Angels' Joel Piñeiro is out for at least six weeks with an oblique injury. And Washington's Jason Marquis has been out since April after elbow surgery.
Dickey, meanwhile, threw another gem Thursday, coming within two outs of a shutout in a 4-0 win over the Cardinals.
The 35-year-old knuckleballer, who started the season with Triple-A Buffalo, improved to 7-4 and lowered his ERA to 2.32. He's pitched 93 innings in 14 starts, which is enough to say this is not a fluke.
"He seems to get through the lineup two or three times pretty easily, and that's tough to do at this level for anybody," Manuel said. "All of a sudden we're in the sixth or seventh inning and nothing has happened."
No one disputes that the Phillies are a better team with Oswalt, and that the Mets' playoff hopes just took a big hit. But if you're looking for a reason to believe in the Mets' chances, the Dickey model is what you should grasp on to. His emergence represents exactly the type of fortune the Mets need more of in the next two months.
"You could say a lot of things about the 2010 Mets, but you can't ever say we don't play hard," Dickey said. "That's a special dynamic we have in here, and if you start seeing that go away, we'll be in trouble. Until then, we've got a chance."
Dickey might not be the life of the clubhouse, but he's earned his teammates' respect with his ultracompetitive nature on the field. Every clubhouse needs a few hungry players to push everyone else, and to be the guy whom teammates feed off when they're playing behind him.
Given the obvious shift of power in the National League East Thursday, Manuel is right when he said, "Everything has to go well for us." But as bleak as that might sound, remember how wrong the Mets looked to be passing on pitching last winter, and look at what Dickey has done. They need that to happen again.