Randolph feels he belongs

NEW YORK – A primary reason why the Mets, a team without sizable cumulative playoff experience, have been able to remain so calm on their October journey has been the guiding influence of manager Willie Randolph.

A veteran of six League Championship Series and four World Series as a player, plus more appearances as a Yankees coach, Randolph feels as though he's spent most of his adult life around the playoffs – a fact he hasn't been shy about reminding reporters on numerous occasions this season.

That message has resounded within the clubhouse as well, as young performers like Jose Reyes and David Wright plus veterans like Carlos Delgado compile their first experiences in the playoffs.

With the Mets nine good innings away from the World Series, their pre-game demeanor appeared calm and loose, with not only momentum and home field advantage on their side, but the cool touch of their manager.

Randolph is a man who not only has been to October before, but can now voice that he truly believes he belongs – not just in this city, a Brooklyn boy making good in Queens, but also on what will become the brightest stage in Major League Baseball in just a matter of minutes.

"It's been a long journey, but I really feel like it's the right time," Randolph said. "This is where I deserve to be and should be. It's my hometown, and a special part of being here is being able to look up in the stands and see your family and friends and your old high school teachers and all that kind of stuff, which is kind of weird."

Time and time again, Randolph has used the word "when" in reference to the Mets' World Series, not "if," as in "when we get to Detroit."

Such confidence can be an asset at these pressurized moments, when each pitch and each decision seem to multiply in importance, but Randolph insists he hasn't had any rookie managerial breakdowns.

"I've always said this, and again, it's part of the reason why I have been successful in the game -- from a player to a coach to my first round as a manager," Randolph said. "I feel real comfortable in this environment. I feel that this is where I should be.

"I love the competition. I love the pressure. Nerves is not something that I really feel. I actually feel better when there's more pressure on me. I seem to focus more."

Randolph said his first experience piloting a team into a Game 7 began much like every other day, which is important – keeping a constant routine would figure to help keep Randolph's even-keeled approach intact.

But that's not to say Randolph exactly had ice water flowing through his veins.

"I just couldn't wait to get here," Randolph said. "I'm always pretty energetic anyway. I had a quick workout early just to calm down a little bit. I couldn't stop moving around and just wanted to get here. I just feel this is going to be a special day for us."

BOUNCING AROUND: Mets pitcher Orlando Hernandez went through an exercise before Thursday's game, taking numerous bunts and appearing fluid and loose as he fielded them and threw on to first.

Hernandez was sidelined for the NLDS and NLCS with a Grade 2 tear in his right calf, but speculation is that he not only could be available for the World Series, but he potentially would be New York's Game 1 starter at Detroit on Saturday.

Asked if the Mets' Game 1 hurler could in fact be a pitcher not currently on New York's playoff roster, Randolph did little to squelch that speculation.

He invoked the name of Dave Williams, but considering Randolph selected Oliver Perez over Williams for the Mets' original playoff roster, that seems unlikely.

"You never know. We have guys ready to go," Randolph said. "Who knows, could be El Duque, the way he's working, coming around, bouncing around pretty good. So it could be him."

Williams is a member of the Mets' taxi squad currently working out in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Other players who remain available in case of emergency include pitchers Brian Bannister and Heath Bell, plus outfielder Lastings Milledge.

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