August 10, 2022

WASHINGTON — When his return to the dugout after four years away was over, there was plenty for Buck Showalter, a 5-1 winner over the Nationals, to like about his Mets. 

There were the five shutout innings from Tylor Megill, professional at-bats, a drag bunt down third from Robinson Cano, a suffocating bullpen … and there was the fire in his dugout after Pete Alonso suffered a busted lip on a 95 mph Mason Thompson fastball in the ninth that thankfully plunked off his shoulder and chin guard. James McCann had been hit by a pitch twice earlier, once with the bases loaded. 

Showalter had just won his 1,552nd career game and had been reminded that sometimes you are forced to either turn the other cheek or keep a long memory. 

He was asked if there had been anger in the dugout over two of his guys getting hit, and he said: “It’s an emotional game played by people that care, yeah. You ever gotten hit by a pitch in the mouth? It’s not particularly pleasant so certainly there’s emotion there. I’m not gonna get into intent … nobody’s gonna be happy about it. Unfortunately it happens, but our guys responded well to it.” 

Sho’ Time, at last. 

“We’re not gonna win ’em all,” he said, “but we’re gonna try. 

“Sometimes the baseball gods will get you, but tonight they smiled on us.” 

And Alonso was thankful that he could smile with no missing teeth … and no concussion. 

Buck Showalter on the field ahead of the Mets' win over the Nationals.
Buck Showalter on the field ahead of the Mets’ win over the Nationals.
Corey Sipkin

No one cares about the game more than Showalter does, and it must delight him that he is back in the dugout with players who care. 

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“It’s like football, you’re waiting for that first tackle,” Showalter told The Post before the game. “Your most confident time is when the first pitch is thrown. When you’re in your element. But all the peripheral things, especially in today’s game, just all the noise, that you’re just trying to get into your element. That’s the challenge.” 

Imagine — a Mets team champing at the bit, eager to embrace the manager’s “Pressure’s a privilege” mantra. 

“I like it a lot. I don’t know whether it was the shortened spring or whether it’s been so long since they’ve been in a good environment like that as far as COVID, but we had to pull ’em out of games, we had to pull ’em out of cages, we had to pull ’em off the field, it was like ‘My gosh!’ ” Showalter said. “The only thing we had to do was back ’em off. We didn’t have to push anybody. Then after a while those that might need pushing looked around at their peers and went, ‘I guess I gotta push too,’ and that’s what you’re looking for.” 

Not even the tiniest detail escapes this man, and suddenly it is as if he is back in the Yankees dugout, April 7, 1992, Yankees 4, Red Sox 3. 

“I remember the last pitch, pop-up, Steve Farr, I think it was a 3-2 breaking ball? Jody Reed, thought it was gonna go foul. I just remember if you jumped up quick at old Yankee Stadium, you hit your head on that padded thing. I sat back down, and he caught it,” Showalter recalled. 

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Buck Showalter stands with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner (left) and bench coach Glenn Sherlock (right).
Buck Showalter stands with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner (left) and bench coach Glenn Sherlock (right).
Corey Sipkin

He was kibitzing with the media before what was originally Opening Day had been delayed further by Mother Nature. Nerves? Nah. Butterflies? Nah. 

“Anticipation,” Showalter said. “I get butterflies by taking a test that I didn’t study for, you know what I mean?” 

This was no time for sentimentality, although it meant so much to him that his wife Angela was there, and his daughter Allie, and two of their four grandchildren — Winston and William Nathaniel V, pushing 2 years old. 

“A lot of my family’s here so that’s cool,” Showalter said. “I got to see some video of them landing, but that’s about the extent of it. Right now we got a lot of things going on you’re trying stay on top of.” 

Showalter senses a team on a quiet mission … just the way he likes it. 

“Everything changes now,” he said. “Get a little different look in their eyes when we get closer to the season starting, you can tell the last two days, there’s a certain sense of concentration that’s been taken to another level.” 

He addressed the team on Wednesday, but not for very long. 

Buck Showalter embraces Francisco Lindor during pregame introductions.
Buck Showalter embraces Francisco Lindor during pregame introductions.
Corey Sipkin

“Sometimes you gotta know when to shut up and get out,” Showalter said. “They were talking so well in there … they said everything I would have said.” 

Showalter has brought a serenity to the clubhouse, and a belief from some players that he could be worth several wins along the way. 

“I think a few more, I really don’t know, I’ve never been under a caliber [of manager] like Buck Showalter,” J.D. Davis told The Post. “His résumé speaks for itself. One big thing, a difference, as us players have noticed is the leadership and pointing the ship in the right direction. I think Buck gives us kind of like a peace of mind in a way, that it is baseball, it’s 162 games, that one at-bat is one of 600, tomorrow’s a new day and let’s go out there and have some fun.” 

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Sho’ Time, at last.