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Mickey Callaway facing his biggest challenge as a manager

Mets manager Mickey Callaway looks on during a

Mets manager Mickey Callaway looks on during a game against the Cubs at Citi Field on Thursday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mickey Callaway seemed calm and upbeat before Saturday night’s game against the Cubs at Citi Field, because Mickey Callaway almost always seems calm and upbeat.

By the time it was over many hours later, after a maddening 7-1, 14-inning loss in which the Mets wasted another strong start by Jacob deGrom and a club-record 24 strikeouts, he still was calm. But the upbeat part was more of a challenge.

Asked what he might do to stir his anemic offense, he said glumly, “At this point I’m not quite sure . . . We just have to go out there and grind. It was a frustrating night at the plate.”

Two months into this manager thing, the new guy is getting an early test of his Mets mettle. They all do, of course, and the most recent model, Terry Collins, tended to react by emoting publicly.

Now we will get a feel for how Callaway’s Zen Master approach plays under duress, and perhaps a sense of whether he is built for the long haul in Flushing.

Friday was interesting. That was the day the Mets finally slid under .500 after an 11-1 start, if you’re scoring at home.

Before the game, he had some interesting things to say about Yoenis Cespedes, the highly paid slugger who rarely plays. His comments included a rarity for a manager: a reference to a player’s contract. “We paid him a lot of money to come out there and produce, and we don’t have him right now, so it’s been tough, especially when we’re facing lefties,” Callaway said.

Hmm. Asked before Saturday’s game if he worried about the pitfalls of mentioning a player’s paycheck, he said, “No, no, I think the reference was he’s a great player. That’s the reason he gets paid lots of money.

“The question presented to me was: Is it tough not having him in there? And when you don’t have your highest-paid player in there — he’s probably one of your more talented players — you’re never going to be as good of a team. That’s why I referenced that.”

After Friday’s 7-4 loss, Callaway did something he had said he is not a big believer in: He held a team meeting.

“It was a combination of things that have been going on the last week and a half and I thought last night was a time we needed to address some things to make sure that they didn’t continue to happen,” he said before Saturday’s game.

“I don’t think you can address them after one time or two times. You have to let guys try and coach themselves through it so they really learn it. But we didn’t seem to be learning from it, so I thought it was time to address it.”

Callaway viewed the chat as part of a long process. Asked when he will know if it worked, he said the answer will not come this weekend. More like early autumn.

“To say one little meeting is going to put us over the top, it’s not,” he said. “It’s the way we go about our business every single day that’s going to create the huge impact, and the end of the season is going to tell that story.”

Four hours before Saturday’s game, Callaway had a guest inspirational speaker address the team: James Kerr, author of a book about New Zealand’s rugby team entitled, “Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.”

Apparently, they were unable to teach the Mets anything about hitting Cubs pitching.

From the day the Mets introduced him, Callaway has been spouting touchy-feely warmth. There is nothing wrong with that, especially at 11-1. At 27-29, things get more complicated. He is finding that out and trying to figure it all out, the hard way.

We may not know for sure this weekend how he will do, but we should have a better sense of that long before early autumn.

New York Sports