NEW YORK - It was clear that Billy Wagner had something to say when he came out from a back room and sat in front of his locker 30 minutes after his New York Mets team had lost to the Phillies yesterday.
Wagner was seething because he had just watched a talking head on TV try to psychoanalyze the Mets after their ninth straight loss to the Phils, dating to last season.
"Some kid just out of high school," fumed Wagner, shaking his head. "The stupid [crap] we deal with."
The Mets closer, whose services were not needed after his teammates coughed up a two-run lead in the seventh, transforming the final Shea Stadium opener from a happy event into an angry boo-fest, went on to strongly express his displeasure with how the Phillies' recent dominance of his team was being portrayed.
In short, Wagner doesn't believe the Phillies are in the Mets' heads - even if it's starting to look that way.
"I'm tired of this 'meltdown, psychological' crap everyone hears about," he said. "It's still a game. We don't even think about that crap. We're baseball players. See the ball, hit the ball, pitch the ball. It's the same thing for them.
"We're all tired of hearing how the Phillies have our number. The Phillies don't have our number. We keep shooting ourselves in the foot."
To a certain extent, Wagner is right about that. In the nine losses that the Mets have suffered to the Phillies since July 1, they have held the lead seven times, five in the fifth inning or later.
Still, when it comes to the possibility of the Phillies' being in the Mets' heads - the lefty doth protest too much, methinks.
The Phillies really do seem to have taken up residence inside the Mets' craniums. And how could the Mets not (at least privately) be thinking that after blowing that seven-game lead over the Phils down the stretch last season, then squandering another lead yesterday? The Phils beat the Mets seven times over the last five weeks of 2007 on an assortment of freak plays and walk-off hits. Anything that could have gone the Phillies' way did.
Yesterday was more of the same. The Phils' three-run seventh was aided by Chase Utley's getting hit by a pitch (for the third time in the game) to load the bases, and Carlos Delgado making an error on a potential double-play ball from Ryan Howard that would have ended the inning. Two runs scored when Delgado's throw to second hit Utley. Two batters later, Jayson Werth put the Phils ahead with a single that brought boos from an angry Shea Stadium crowd that still remembers last season's collapse.
"The city expects a winner, and we're not playing good baseball right now," third baseman David Wright said. "If you want to enjoy the perks of playing in New York, you have to understand there will be some booing when you don't play well."
The Mets are winless in three games against the Braves and Phils in the early season.
"Those games were an early test and we failed," Wright said.
Clearly, the collapse of 2007 was the nastiest nightmare in recent Mets history. Yesterday's loss seemed to be an extension of that nightmare. All winter long, the Mets had been hounded by questions of how they would rebound. Then came yesterday. They were face-to-face with the team they saw in their sleep all winter, and they lost again.
The beast is still alive.
Or is it?
"There's really no correlation," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "It's a new season. We play them 18 times. Sure, we'd like to have gotten that first one, but we might win the next 10."
Wright had a similar take.
"I don't think there's any carryover," he said. "The fans obviously will think what they want. They still remember '07. All of us remember '07. But this is a new season and a new team. From my perspective, we're 0-1 against the Phillies and that's it."
Had the Mets been able to send newly acquired ace Johan Santana to the mound yesterday, all of this might be moot. But Santana does not pitch in this series. That's something else that has gone the Phillies' way.
Regardless of how the Phillies' dominance of the Mets is viewed, there's no disputing that the Phils have developed a huge amount of confidence against their National League East rivals. You could almost feel it yesterday as Tom Gordon notched the save with a 1-2-3 ninth. Gordon, a nervous type, almost looked peaceful on the mound.
"They have that swagger," Wright said. "They won the division. They go out there and expect to win."
Wagner added, "There's definitely a confidence on their side. When they come here, they bring it. They show up and play great. That's what we have to do.
"We're a good team, but we can't continue to talk about it. We have to show it."