ANAHEIM, Calif. - Once he decided to fire Willie Randolph, New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya caught a flight to the West Coast, went to the team hotel, and waited to deliver the news in person.
"Eye to eye," Minaya said yesterday. "It was done quick."
Even if it seemed to take forever.
The late-night hit came as chants of "Fire Willie!" grew louder at Shea Stadium and on New York's sports talk radio stations. Yet when Minaya did just that, the news shocked most everyone - fans, media, and apparently even Randolph.
"I'm really stunned by it," the ex-manager said around noon yesterday. "I was surprised by it."
Bench coach Jerry Manuel, a former American League Manager of the Year for the Chicago White Sox, will manage the Mets for the rest of the year.
Randolph became the first manager in the majors to be fired this season, the move announced in an e-mail at 12:14 a.m. PDT yesterday. He was dismissed with the Mets below .500, still wobbling from last year's colossal collapse, and speculation about his job status growing every day.
The tension went on "far too long," Minaya said. "It was not fair."
Pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto also were fired.
Minaya said he made the decision Monday and stressed it was his alone. He met with Randolph after that night's 9-6 win over the Los Angeles Angels left the Mets at 34-35.
"I think he was resigned to it," Minaya said. "When all is said and done, I think he was relieved."
Minaya said it would have been disrespectful to fire a manager while he was still in uniform. Instead, Minaya said he waited to talk to Randolph away from the ballpark.
"Eleven p.m. at night, after a game . . . standard procedure in letting a manager go in this game," he said.
Yet many Mets fans were startled to wake up and learn Randolph had been fired. The move also left many media members in New York wondering why the dismissal came in the dead of night - New York time, anyway.
There was no doubt, however, that the team with a $138 million payroll was not getting the job done.
"Is it Willie only? No, it's us," Minaya said. "I can't replace 25 players. And the players care. The players give 100 percent.
"It just wasn't working. I think the players were pressing."
Whether they admitted it or not, it was clear last year's collapse was still haunting them.
Leading the National League East by seven games on Sept. 12, the Mets lost 12 of their last 17 and missed the playoffs as Philadelphia rallied to win the division title.
"That was a catastrophic demise of a chance to go on and play in a championship series," Manuel said. "Right now, I think we are somewhat underperforming. I think we need to freshen up our everyday players."
The 54-year-old takes over a squad that still has playoff aspirations.
Quiet and confident, Manuel managed the White Sox from 1998-2003, winning AL Manager of the Year in 2000 after guiding his club to the league's best record (95-67).
Helping him will be Ken Oberkfell, the manager at Triple A New Orleans, and Dan Warthen, pitching coach for the Zephyrs. Luis Aguayo, a Mets field coordinator, also will join the major league staff.