By Rich Coutinho
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All I heard in spring training was that the Mets were not going to be very good, and despite having a few nice players, the lack of depth on this team would be their undoing. The critics might want to reconsider their position. Quite frankly, this team has the heart of a lion -- and showed it again last night in Philly.
They knew they were up against it. Roy Halladay was dealing, and at one point retired 13 batters in a row before Andres Torres worked out a walk. Two batters later, David Wright stroked a two-run double to tie the score -- but there was more to come.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Josh Thole was knocked out cold on a hard-but-clean play by Ty Wigginton, which forced Terry Collins to insert light-hitting Mike Nickeas into the game. He laced a two-out double off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning, proving the closer simply can not get out Mets' backup catchers (remember Omir Santos at Fenway in 2009).
And so all Collins had left on the bench was the youngster Jordany Valdespin, who promptly deposited a three-run homer into the bleachers, making his first major-league hit an unforgettable moment. We've all heard a lot about Valdespin (and most of it has not been all that complimentary), but understand this -- the kid can flat-out hit.
I remember sitting in the press box in Jupiter, Florida, circa 2009 with Omar Minaya. He was pretty clear in his evaluation of Valdespin when he said, "Rich, I am telling you this kid is a pure hitter and once he fine tunes his game, he will become a major-league core hitter."
The Mets are now 11-5 against the NL East and 3-1 against the Phillies here at Citizens Bank Park. They are getting contributions from every man on the roster and some from their minor-league rosters. Do they have weaknesses? You bet they do. But they have a few intangibles going for them. They have a locker room filled with players who have something to prove. Some are young. Others are players who are coming off injury-riddled seasons. Others want to tell the world they are winners. Through 29 games, the Mets are 16-13, including an eye-popping record in a tough division.
And to a man, they feel they have just scratched the surface on how far they can go. One thing is for sure: they will not fail because of lack of effort or poor game planning. They will also NEVER use injuries as an excuse for losing -- that is a trait of past Mets teams and did not serve them well.
How good can the Mets be? All I know is they have played seven games against 2011 playoff teams and have won five of them. They have swept series from both the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins. They have won games where they've had to face Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Tommy Hanson, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle.
Even if you are the most pessimistic Mets fan, that has got to tell you something.
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