WASHINGTON -- With every loss, the crowd gets bigger.

On Wednesday afternoon, reporters piled into the Mets' dugout three-deep to hear from the captain of the ship, manager Willie Randolph. But while the crowds increase, the message doesn't. Randolph says he's the same manager he's always been.

"This is just me, man," he said. "I don't try to put on any acts or any facades. It's just me."

Randolph has been criticized by some for not being emotional enough during the team's current five-game losing streak. When he addresses the media, he is the definition of calm, speaking slowly and assuredly. On Tuesday night, he told reporters after a 9-8 loss, "When we sip the champagne later, it'll be that much sweeter."

But he maintains that he can also be a disciplinarian when necessary, and took the team aside Tuesday to let them know what expectations were.

"Just because you don't see it doesn't mean that I haven't done it," he said. "When I talk to the players, I'm not like that. Not like that at all. I'm very passionate."

After running away with the National League East title in 2006, Randolph knew things would be different for the team this season.

"Everybody wants to knock you off," he said. "Just because we ran away with it last year, now they know who we are. This is expected.

"Everyone is tripping about what we're doing that's so bad. We're 16 games above .500. That's a good team. We expected this year to be tougher than last year. All this to me is very normal and expected. Nobody is going to let you run over them and take the division."

Nationals manager Manny Acta, who was a third-base coach with the Mets in 2006, said that Randolph's calm demeanor would be a benefit to the team, and added that he would rather be in the Mets' position than the Phillies, because Philadelphia is still chasing first place.

Randolph knows what he's up against, and added Wednesday that he only took the time to clarify his personality to reporters because he was tired of people speculating as to how he was handling the team.

"I'm comfortable with what I'm doing here," he said. "Do people in general like people who don't know spewing and talking? Not necessarily, but I understand that."

That's not likely to change anytime soon. As a longtime fixture in the New York baseball scene, Randolph knows what the job entails.

"I've been in this town a long time, and I understand that's part of it," he said. "I always say that the best part of the day is when the game starts."