This weekend could be the last stand for Willie Randolph as manager of the Mets and it's looking more and more like he won't survive it, regardless of what happens in the three games against the Rangers.
An exasperated Randolph answered the usual volley of questions about his job security before Friday's game at Shea Stadium and sources within the organization indicated that the front office was strongly considering firing him as early as Saturday.
The plan is for Randolph to be replaced by bench coach Jerry Manuel, according to a person familiar with the situation.
As part of that shake-up, pitching coach Rick Peterson would also be relieved of his duties, with Dan Warthen, who currently holds the same job at Triple-A New Orleans, to be called up to replace him. It appears that hitting coach Howard Johnson will retain his position on the staff.
When asked Friday about Randolph's job status, general manager Omar Minaya repeated the standard lines he first unveiled May 23, when he took a last-minute trip to Colorado to address the turmoil surrounding the Mets.
Minaya insisted again that Randolph has the "support" of both the GM and Fred and Jeff Wilpon, but that has no doubt been steadily eroding over the past few weeks. The recent four-game sweep by the Padres in San Diego — the second for the Mets in 18 days — was a crippling blow to Randolph.
The Mets suffered through three straight 2-1 losses before Billy Wagner blew three consecutive saves, the last resulting in a 10th-inning defeat Thursday that did not help Randolph's cause before the team's decision-makers huddled after the game.
"The cycle of the team has been totally out of whack," Randolph said Friday. "I still believe that it's not from lack of effort or lack of guys wanting to get it done. We know who we are at this point of the season. We know we have to start playing baseball.
"I don't ever sense that players don't want to get this done right and get us in the right direction, but it's like we're fighting some other kind of force or whatever."
The decision on Randolph's future lies in the hands of Minaya, a longtime friend. But the GM is getting increased pressure from the Wilpons to fix their underachieving, $140-million team. With little help available outside the organization and a depleted farm system, Minaya's only choice may be the most desperate one: firing Randolph and Peterson.
When asked before Friday's game about Randolph's role in the Mets' disappointing record, Minaya refused to attach a percentage to the manager's culpability.
"I don't know how to answer that question as to how responsible he is," Minaya said. "The bottom line is: We're all responsible. The players are responsible, the manager's responsible, the front office is responsible — we're a team. We're all in this together. We win together and we lose together."
But not everyone takes the fall together. Randolph, and to a lesser extent Peterson, have been in the crosshairs since last September's collapse, when the Mets blew a seven-game division lead with 17 games left. The front office let Randolph dangle for 24 hours after the regular season ended before calling a news conference to announce he was staying as manager, with two years and $4.25 million left on his contract.
That scene was repeated May 26 at Shea after Randolph's afternoon summit with the Wilpons. But when Minaya later sat beside Randolph at the microphone, he declined to commit to Randolph for the remainder of the season, leaving his status vulnerable to the next losing streak.
Randolph certainly has been victimized by a few bad breaks, too. Pedro Martinez only recently returned from a two-month layoff, Ryan Church remains at home recovering from post-concussion symptoms and the Mets placed Moises Alou on the disabled list Friday for the third time since early March.
"We're using our people," Randolph said. "No matter what you do as a manager, you're still at the mercy of what your players do. There's definitely no regrets. Sometimes when you're losing, it's not because you're doing something necessarily wrong. Sometimes it's luck.
"It's almost worse now than when we were going through the collapse last year because I know that if we could just put everything together, we would be the team that we know we can be. But it's almost like the cycle is out of whack."
In another bizarre event Friday, Randolph actually posed for pictures behind the batting cage with the man he replaced, Art Howe, who is now the Rangers' bench coach. Later, Randolph, with an armful of black T-shirts, searched for a few select players in the clubhouse to give them to. He handed one to Martinez and on the front it said, "Mets Baseball, This is the Year, Estes es el Ano."
The timing was strange, as was the message. Maybe Randolph was just cleaning out his closet one final time.
"I came here from Day 1 to help this team win a championship, and until the last day, that's what I'm going to do," Randolph said. "To go down doing that."