Mets' Wagner praises Manuel, says Phillies were better team

NEW YORK - After the 2005 season, Billy Wagner had a decision to make - stay with the Phillies or go to the Mets. There was more money with a longer contract in New York. There was, it appeared, a better chance to win in New York. He chose the Mets.

Last year, the Mets nearly made it to the World Series, coming up just short against the Cardinals in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. This year, the Mets had the National League East under control for months.

The season, however, is relentless. You have to play all 162. The Mets stopped after game 145. And when they lost to the Marlins yesterday at Shea Stadium, they had given the division to the Phillies. Or the Phillies had taken it. Or both.

"We can't honestly say we're the better team because teams that are better just don't play this bad," said Wagner, who stood in front of his locker as long as there were questions. "Philly just came out and outplayed everybody . . . All the guys had great years there. They deserved it."

Wagner had a kind word for his former manager.

"Charlie Manuel, with all the beating he took down there, he kept his team together through everything," Wagner said.

There were no excuses for his team, Wagner said. He could not have imagined that, in mid-September, he would be talking about a historic meltdown on the last day of the month.

"It's just shocking that we're not going to be in the playoffs," Wagner said. "We definitely weren't the better team, but we'd earned the right to get there. The last 2 weeks, we just didn't show up."

And the Phillies did.

"They wanted it more," Wagner said. "You can say whatever you want. They were the better team." *