The Mets had already made it perfectly clear what they think of manager Buck Showalter. You don’t even consider trying to get Shakira to attend a 66-year-old man’s birthday party unless you really love the guy.
“It was touching,” Showalter said Friday about the cake, the spin-around, the piñata, and all that fun Shakira ultimately missed out on in San Francisco on Monday.
“Nothing that I don’t also feel about them.”
Showalter had been a big league manager with four organizations over 20 seasons and more than 3,000 games when he landed with the Mets. And yet 46 games into his 21st year on the job, he believes he could be leading a team with chemistry unlike any he has seen.
It’s the kind of chemistry that could carry the Mets through a wave of injuries that threatens to derail them.
“This might be the best group I’ve ever had,” Showalter told The Post before a monster, both-sides-of-the-ball game from Pete Alonso and a brilliant ninth from Edwin Diaz helped the Mets hold off the Phillies, 8-6, in their series opener on Friday at Citi Field.
“That may change when we lose eight in a row. But they are good kids, man. I’ve just been really impressed with their unity and their respect for each other. They care what their teammates think and they want to please them. … They don’t embrace any excuses.”
Not that there aren’t excuses available for a bear hug or two.
The Mets are trying to protect the biggest divisional lead in the majors, 7 ¹/₂ games, without the services of three starting pitchers, including future Hall of Famers Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, their starting catcher, a significant reliever, and a fast and versatile bench player, Travis Jankowski, now gone for a couple of months. As much as Showalter maintains that injuries are a routine part of the 162-game grind, and that nobody outside of his clubhouse cares about the Mets’ woes, chances are there have been times he’s wanted to walk into a Citi Field room, shut the door, and shout, “What the (insert your preferred four-letter word beginning with ‘f’)?”
But he can’t say that for public consumption. Showalter has been around far too long to show his players and opponents any sign of weakness. So instead he projects a vibe of certainty and optimism, giving encouraging updates on Tylor Megill and James McCann, disclosing that deGrom will be traveling on the next West Coast trip, and saying that it was a wonderful thing to have deGrom throwing Friday on the field.
“I’d want to see him throw too, wouldn’t you?” Showalter said. “If I was a fan at home, the sight of him cocking his arm is exciting. … It’s uplifting in a lot of ways to see him in the locker room, for everybody knowing what is probably going to be down the road if we can stay down this path.”
The manager later added that the ace, who hasn’t pitched all season, looked particularly tan and robust. That was after Showalter said that he’d traded notes with Scherzer on Thursday, and that the Max and Jake comebacks are a matter of when, not if.
“So it’s up to us,” Showalter said. “We’ve played 28 percent of our games, just over the quarter mark, and you’re telling me we’re going to get all these people back around the All-Star break?”
The manager paused and smiled. He liked the sound of that, a first-place Mets team being fortified by two terminators over the second half of summer.
“Now what will happen, somebody else will go down too, when they come back,” he predicted. “What’s that expression, that the good Lord wouldn’t give me more than I can handle, but I wish he didn’t have so much confidence in me? That’s kind of like the baseball gods. Nobody wants to hear about your problems, and most of your opponents are happy you have them.”
Showalter defined harmony not as the absence of problems, but as the ability to deal with them.
“So we’re going to deal with them from within,” he said.
He had a meeting with the pitchers to attend before the victory over the Phillies, and he was planning to discuss coverage on swinging bunts — not the need for everyone to elevate in the absence of the aces. Showalter understands that the last thing his team needs, as the injuries mount, is a manager too quick to change his approach and tone. Better to talk about the beauty of opportunity, and the possibility that the Mets will, in his words, stumble upon “an orchid while searching for a rose.”
After losing two straight in San Francisco — only the second time the Mets have suffered consecutive defeats this season, and the first time to the same team — Showalter remained confident that he is suiting up players capable of weathering what could be a long-term storm.
“Billy Eppler goes after the right guys,” he said of his general manager. “He and I share that with the [Mark] Canhas, the [Eduardo] Escobars, and the [Starling] Martes. They’re not overly sexy, but they are baseball players.
“The biggest compliment I can give a guy is if I say, ‘He’s a baseball player.’ We have a lot of baseball players.”
And a whole lot of chemistry. That might be the Mets’ best asset until Max and Jake are back on the mound.