Baxter exemplifies Collins' brand of baseball
NEW YORK -- Mike Baxter is not a casualty of war. The last 70 years have provided far too many examples of what that term represents. Baxter is a casualty of want, the desire to make a play, to help a teammate accomplish a special achievement. He should be saluted publicly for putting his season on the line in an effort to preserve the no-hitter Johan Santana was creating Friday night. And every outfielder who ever has shied away from a wall and second baseman who has bailed ought to be ashamed of himself.
Baxter doesn't deserve a moment of silence, thank goodness, but a moment of salute is required for his moment of courage and selflessness. He couldn't have known the extent of damage he was about to inflict on his collarbone and ribs as he pursued the menacing fly ball Yadier Molina -- there's that name again -- hit in the seventh inning. He had to have had a sense of the danger, though. The wide path of dirt beyond the outfield grass is called the warning track for a reason, and most walls are unyielding. (Whose idea was it to move the wall in anyway?)
He shied away from neither the wall nor the likelihood of missing significant time in a season in which he was establishing himself as a productive and reliable big league player. The catch that followed warranted a "7*" or some such notation that conveyed the thought "Wow!" on every scorecard.
Some perspective here: It is preposterous to compare Baxter's catch in left field to the wondrously athletic and clutch catch Endy Chavez made in the 2006 National League Championship Series. Degree of difficulty and the baseball-dire circumstances that existed made Chavez's catch one for the ages. If the Mets had won that game, his leap, stretch and catch would have stood with any play ever by any outfielder, even Willie Mays. It should anyway.
Had Baxter considered self-preservation and played Molina's ball off the wall, the Mets still would have won the game. Degree of difficulty in his play was something less, though not by much, given the New York second he had to measure the play. Courage and selflessness required were off the charts.
No need to compare the two plays, just appreciate them.
And, at the same time, appreciate the mindset that exists in the Mets' dugout and on the field these days. It's as wondrous as Endy's catch, Santana's no-hitter or Seaver's Imperfect Game. The current Mets, Terry Collins' Mets, are to be appreciated at every turn. With the multitude of injuries that have beset this team, the Mets are outmanned almost every time they take the field, the exceptions being when Santana or R.A. Dickey starts.
And these Mets win despite what and who are missing. They are a joy to watch. This is the baseball I watched in the '50s, the period known as the game's Golden Age, not only because of the three center fielders within five boroughs and all the other Spahns, Banks and Hanks who played then. The game was played better, more competitive then than at any time I have witnessed. A second baseman who bailed wasn't a second baseman for long. Outfielders were quite familiar with walls and the concepts of hitting the cutoff man and keeping the double play in order. Even the poor teams played the game properly.
These Mets, Terry Collins' Mets, aren't a poor team. They aren't because they play the game properly, intelligently and with a sense of purpose mixed with a sense of desperation. These players do what they can do and -- in the case of Mike Baxter -- what they almost can't do. Praise to Baxter and to his manager.
Collins' professional approach has created a winning atmosphere, and the players have run with it.
I should have known better (Beatles, 1964). I measured the Mets in Spring Training and saw all they lacked. And after watching all they accomplished under Collins last season, I failed to weigh his impact on the talent I saw. I wrongly concluded the Mets of 2012 were of a team of 100-loss potential. I was wrong.
In the end, superior talent playing properly will win out. I still don't anticipate Citi Field being used for baseball in October. But these Mets, Terry Collins' Mets, will be playing the game properly into the season's final days. That is their MO.
Collins recognizes his players have developed a oneness that makes them a more competitive team. He recognizes and appreciates it. He was unable to respond to some postgame questions Friday night because of how that appreciation and the pride it fosters tugs at his heart and paralyzes his larynx.
He cares about his guys and knows they care about him. What a comforting way to be. These Mets, Terry Collins' Mets, will go to the wall for him. We have ample evidence of that now.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.