PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) -Jose Reyes bounced across the clubhouse Friday and broke into a familiar smile, the boyish expression that vanished from his face so suddenly last September.
``What's up, what's up, what's up!'' the New York Mets' shortstop said, enthusiastically announcing his arrival at spring training four days before position players were required to report.
At that moment, last season felt like ancient history - and the Mets would surely like to put 2007 behind them as fast as possible.
After blowing a seven-game lead in the NL East with 17 to play, New York missed the playoffs and spent a painful winter wondering how it happened.
``I didn't really start feeling like myself until probably holiday time,'' manager Willie Randolph said. ``We were one of the best teams in the National League, or probably the best team in the National League last year, until we went into a funk.''
aying the team might have taken a postseason berth for granted.
And fans? Fuh-geddaboudit! Many won't get over the disappointment until the Mets win another World Series - whenever that might be.
``I think we all know, and knew, that we wasted a golden opportunity,'' Randolph said.
Reyes' slump was one of the biggest reasons for the meltdown. A two-time All-Star, the speedy leadoff hitter batted .205 in September and rarely seemed himself down the stretch.
His struggles left him sullen and sulking on the bench during games, discouraging countenance for a 24-year-old jitterbug who often gets so excited he dances on the dugout steps when the Mets mount a rally.
Reyes said he takes a lot of the responsibility for New York finishing 5-12 and coughing up the division title to Philadelphia on the final day of the season.
``Because a lot of people say when I get on base, good things happen for this team,'' he said. ``When I go, people say here, the team goes.''
To some degree, the acquisition of ace Johan Santana from Minnesota this month has helped the Mets move past their September swoon - at least psychologically.
chers and catchers.
Still, the only way to truly wash away the bitter taste from last season is to win on the field.
``We'll prove what we're all about,'' said Randolph, adding that he doesn't feel any added pressure about his job status this year. ``I love the fact that we can go out and maybe dispel some of the hurt and pain of last year by going out and being a team that bounces back from real tough adversity at the end of the season. That's a big challenge for us.''
Besides landing Santana, the Mets didn't make many notable moves this offseason and there's not much to resolve in spring training. A middle relief role or two could be up for grabs, and reliever Duaner Sanchez (shoulder) is preparing for his first major league action since a July 2006 taxi accident.
A healthy Sanchez would certainly boost the bullpen. Randolph called the right-hander ``a big key'' to the team's success.
``He's ready to go,'' Randolph said. ``We'll watch him, but I don't think we're going to treat him with kid gloves.''
Elsewhere, new catcher Brian Schneider must develop a rapport with the pitching staff. He was acquired from Washington in a trade that also included right fielder Ryan Church, who wants to show he can hit left-handers consistently.
Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, Carlos Delgado and Moises Alou are all back - in the final year of their contracts.
``We have to do it this year. That's it!'' Reyes said.
Notes: Hernandez said he wants to remain a starter rather than move to the bullpen. ... OF Brady Clark agreed to a minor league contract with the Mets and was invited to spring training. He played 10 games for New York in 2002. ... Sandy Alomar Jr. was hired as the team's catching instructor. A six-time All-Star and the 1990 AL Rookie of the Year, Alomar ended his 20-year big league career last season with the Mets. His father is the club's third base coach.
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