Despite missing playoffs, Mets appear likely to bring Manuel back in '09

NEW YORK -- Even though the Mets missed the playoffs, it appears Jerry Manuel will return as manager.

After a 4-2 loss to Florida on Sunday knocked New York out of postseason contention, a person familiar with Mets management discussions said there's a very good chance Manuel will be brought back next season. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because a final decision had not been made.

"I hope so," center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "I believe he should be back. He's a great man and he did everything possible."

Manuel was promoted from bench coach to interim manager when Willie Randolph was fired June 17, and he led the Mets back into playoff contention after a slow start. Still, they were eliminated by Florida on the final day of the regular season for the second consecutive year.

Manuel said he addressed his players after the game and thanked them for respecting him and giving their best effort.

"Jerry did a very good job coming into a very difficult situation," general manager Omar Minaya said. "I was very pleased. ... As far as the manager situation, my preference is to get this done sooner than later."

Before the game, Mets owner Fred Wilpon praised Manuel and Minaya. The Mets were 34-35 when Manuel took over and he helped them build a 3½-game lead in the NL East after play on Sept. 10. But New York's makeshift bullpen and inconsistent offense struggled down the stretch as the team dropped 10 of its final 17 games.

"What Jerry's done has been remarkable. You won't find a guy in this clubhouse that doesn't look up to Jerry, doesn't respect Jerry and think that Jerry's one of the best baseball minds in the game," David Wright said. "I'll forever owe Jerry quite a bit, not only for this year but everything he's taught me since he's been here. Jerry has my utmost respect."

Manuel's fate will be decided by Minaya in consultation with the owner and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, the owner's son.

"Jerry has done an excellent job in all ways, on and off the field," Fred Wilpon said. "And Jerry is a great gentleman. After the season Jeff and Omar will attend to that. It's not for me to say one way or another."

New York also has been discussing a new contract with Minaya, whose five-year deal runs through the 2009 season.

"He has this organization very much in the right direction," Fred Wilpon said. "One of the things that no one predicted, including myself standing here, was that we would have as many people in our minor league system who are really potential very, very good major league baseball players. A year ago, standing here, everybody would have said, 'The Mets don't have anything in their system.' They were wrong."

While the final game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21 was filled with sentimentality, few are sorry to see the demise of Shea, the Mets' home since 1964.

"It was time for it to go and time for us to get a new home. And fortunately the city and the state allowed that to happen with their help and guidance and our money," Fred Wilpon said. "This was built as a dual sports arena, and you really can't fit football and baseball in the same arena optimally because the shape of the park is different for football than it is for baseball. So it was a compromise in the '60s -- that's what they built."

Still, nearly all the fans stayed in their seats after the loss to Florida and cheered their old favorites during a closing ceremony that lasted nearly an hour.

The Mets brought back former greats from Tom Seaver and Willie Mays to Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. There was a video tribute and former players paraded down the baselines to touch home plate a final time, one by one.

"For all of us, one last time to say goodbye, because every player I think that walked in here has a little history of his own and what he accomplished in this ballpark," Strawberry said. "You've always got to remember that. No one can take that away from you."

Seaver threw a pitch to Mike Piazza and they walked to center field together to close the outfield gate, bidding farewell to big Shea.

"I had to be back. This was home," Gooden said. "I get goosebumps all over."

The Mets will move next season into an intimate new ballpark, Citi Field, which is under construction in the Shea Stadium parking lot.

Wilpon said his most lasting memory at Shea is from Sept. 21, 2001, when Piazza's two-run, eighth-inning homer powered the Mets to a 3-2 victory over Atlanta in the first game at the ballpark following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"That was the most draining emotional time here at Shea. And when Mike hit that home run, it topped off -- it just says, you're not going to beat us, we're Americans, you're not going to beat us, and we're going to fight back, and we're going to win the war on terrorism."