Randolph: Mets on the right track

NEW YORK – The Mets are assured of their best finish in three years and their highest win total since the team went to the World Series in 2000.

It's a start, but it's not enough, says manager Willie Randolph.

"It's an improvement," Randolph said. "Obviously it's a little bit different team; different approach, different style."

After two dormant years at the cellar of the National League East, the Mets made a return to respectability in Randolph's first year at the helm.

Infused with a mix of high-priced veteran talent (Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran), existing stars (Cliff Floyd, Mike Piazza, Tom Glavine) and exciting youth (David Wright and Jose Reyes), the Mets took grasp of Randolph's overtures to change the losing mentality of the clubhouse, a culture overhaul that began with the very first day of spring training.

You could tell, as Randolph put his team through military-like drill exercises on the first day of camp (leaving one pitcher sprawled on the clubhouse floor, gasping for air), that the country-club Mets were dead.

"We needed to believe we could go out there and compete with anyone in the division," Randolph said. "I think it caught on after a while. Players began to believe that regardless of injuries or misfortune, we could still [compete]."

Beltran called it the 'New Mets,' and even though only a late-September surge prevented the club's third straight losing finish, the team played differently thanks in major part to the infusion of youth.

In their first full seasons at the major league level, Wright and Reyes each played starring roles, as Wright drove in over 100 runs and Reyes became just the second Met to reach the 60-steal plateau.

That, more than anything else, gives Randolph hope that brighter days are ahead.

"They got a chance to see what they can do, and that's important for teams to have young players," Randolph said. "It means a lot for the future."

But, as Randolph admits, "we have some flaws we need to address." The offseason will bring any number of questions regarding several Mets positions, not the least of which is catcher, expected to become vacant after Mike Piazza's final game as a Met on Sunday.

Issues will also be raised as to whether Mike Jacobs is an everyday first baseman; if Kaz Matsui will (or can) return for 2006; if the Mets will trade the recovering Mike Cameron someplace where he can play center field and, if so, if Victor Diaz is the answer, and so forth.

As currently constituted, though, Randolph feels the Mets' roster performed as expected.

"I definitely think we got as much as we could out of this team," Randolph said. "These guys deserve a lot of credit."

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