Playing in his 13th major league season, New York Mets third baseman David Wright is no longer the star player for the organization that drafted him in the first round 15 years ago.
But a clutch moment like Wright provided in a dramatic 5-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field on Saturday is why Wright’s teammates and coaching staff still have a lot of faith in him.
Sending a 3-0 pitch from reliever Michael Blazek through a steady drizzle, to the wall in right-center field, for a game-winning, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth inning, Wright lifted the Mets to their first walk-off win of the season.
It was also the team captain’s ninth walk-off run batted in, making him the Mets’ all-time leader in a 13th different, positive offensive category.
But it had been 1,416 days — going back to July 5, 2012, against Philadelphia — since Wright’s last walk-off hit.
And coming off an injury-plagued, 38-game season last year, the .296 career hitter merely lifted his season batting average (in 121 at-bats) to a career-low .223, a disconcerting 31 points below his career-low of .254, in 102 games, five years ago.
That’s why Wright’s timely hit, which finished New York’s rally from a 4-2 deficit, could be big if it jump-starts Wright’s season and gets the up-and-down, defending National League champions back on track.
“I’m thrilled for him,” manager Terry Collins said of Wright. “He’s a great player and he’s off to a slow start trying to deal with what he’s had to deal with, and for him to be put in that situation, I kind of felt that he was gonna do something to come through. He hasn’t had many of those opportunities, and that’s where he needs to be.”
Collins admitted that although the Mets were just one more Blazek ball from winning the game on a walk, he was nonetheless planning to give Wright the green light.
“I was gonna give him the hit sign,” Collins said. “He and I talked about another situation we had earlier and he said, ‘You know, I like to hit there.’ And I said, ‘I know you do.’”
Collins knew he wasn’t going to change the veteran’s mind even if he wanted to.
Laughing, Collins added, “I didn’t need to bother giving [the hit sign] to him, because I know he wasn’t going to look for it anyway. He didn’t even look down for it whether I gave it to him or not. He’s smart enough to know what he’s gotta do in that count and he got a good ball to hit.”
Collins added, “That’s a good count. You’re gonna get a strike. If you’re willing to lay off the close pitch, you’re going to get something good to hit. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Believing strongly in Wright despite his earlier, prolonged struggles, only enhanced that feeling for Collins.
“He’s such a smart player,” Collins said of Wright. “I know the strikeouts are up… but he had an idea what he was going to get, and when he got in that 3-0 count, I’m sure he’s thinking opposite way, ‘cuz you’ve gotta sit on the fastball and think about the opposite way so you don’t jump out on the breaking ball.”
While the highlight came in the game’s final at-bat, Wright set the stage for his own heroics via some sharp play with his glove in the top of the ninth inning.
Center fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who tied the game at 4-apiece with a two-run homer inside the left field foul pole in the sixth inning, threw to third to hold shortstop Jonathan Villar to a one-out double. However, Cespedes’ throw was way off line, and would have allowed Villar to reach third base, or even score the go-ahead run, if not for a nice diving stop in foul ground by Wright.
One batter later, second baseman Scooter Gennett grounded to counterpart Asdrubal Cabrerra, who rather than taking the sure second out at first base, threw unexpectedly to Wright, who applied a good, quick tag on Villar to help the Mets get out of the inning.
“He’s a solid defender,” Collins said of Wright. “Nobody makes the [play on a] slow roller better in baseball than he does. He’s still got what it takes. He’s just gotta realize he’s gotta fight through some tougher times.”
Detailing the reality of where Wright is at in his career, Collins added, “He’s had to make a lot of adjustments, there’s no question about it, and he knows it. He talks about it… it’s gonna be a long year for him. He’s got a lot of adjustments he’s gotta make on a daily basis.”
Despite that hard truth, Collins trust in Wright remains steadfast.
“Will David Wright be the David Wright of five or six years ago?” Collins asked. “Probably not, but he’s still a great player. He’s still a very, very good player, and he’s gonna show it. As the weather gets better and he continues to stay looser, he may not be the home run hitter that we remember him being, but he’s a good hitter.
“When it starts to warm up and he gets himself a little bit more comfortable, I think he’s gonna be fine, I really do. One reason is because he’ll take a base hit. He always has.”
Before Wright could finish rewarding Collins’ faith in him, New York’s bullpen, which ran its scoreless stretch to 12 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, had to do its job again.
“They’ve been tremendous,” Collins said. “In today’s game, you’ve gotta have a good bullpen. If you’re going to have success in this league, you better have a strong bullpen, and those guys came on and pitched great tonight.”
The Mets’ pen has recently tried to pick up what is normally one of the best pitching staffs in the majors, but which has fallen on difficult times of late.
That, coupled with New York’s offensive struggles this month, took the Mets (24-18) from a season-high eight-game winning streak (which left them at 15-7) to eventually, six losses in seven games, dropping their record to a fairly mediocre 22-18, before New York won its last two games, each against Milwaukee.
“We had not played great in the last ten days, the three games in Colorado (getting swept) and the games against the Nationals (dropping the final two of three at home, by scores of 7-1 and 9-1), but they’re all big right now.” Collins noted.
Starter Jacob deGrom was the latest Mets starter to face adversity.
DeGrom, who had been one of the majors’ best pitchers at home over the past two years, allowed the first career home run and three of the nine career RBIs for second-year right fielder Ramon Flores, while lasting only five innings during a 100-pitch effort.
“His command wasn’t real good,” Collins said. “I mean, 100 pitches in five innings is not Jacob deGrom, not even close. The thing that’s made him successful is strikes down in the zone. [Today], a lot of balls up in the zone, so obviously, he was a little bit out of whack, and we’ve gotta get that corrected, because this guy is too good of a pitcher to throw that many pitches and be in those deep counts like he was.”
Discussing deGrom’s problems along with even worse troubles for star pitcher Matt Harvey (who is just 3-6 with a 5.77 ERA), Collins insisted, “I’m not concerned. I know that as we move along, they’re gonna get better… and when they get better, it’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Mainly, Collins is hopeful because of the overall quality of the Mets’ roster coupled with New York’s solid team chemistry.
“This has always been a good team,” Collins said. “Okay, we made a couple changes — (2015 postseason hero Daniel) Murphy’s not here, there’s a couple of other guys that aren’t here anymore — but we’ve got a great clubhouse. When our guys go to dinner on the road, there’s eight or ten of them. There’s not just two or three.
“They all know that we’ve got to work together if we’re going to succeed… that’s the one thing I saw last year. It didn’t matter if you were in the lineup or not, everybody rooted for ya.”
On Saturday, no one in the home dugout doubted in Wright’s ability.
“You could hear the guys on the bench, kinda, ‘This is the guy we want up there right now.’ Everybody’s excited for him,” Collins said. “David’s obviously a huge personality in there… but they pull for each other.”
When it comes to winning on a more consistent basis again, Collins said it’s important for everyone to feel involved while New York gets key contributions from a variety of different sources.
“A lot of people had a piece of today’s game… and that’s how you start [winning] streaks.” he said. “Everybody feels good, everybody wants to get in there, everybody wants to do their share. So I think it’s a big win for us.”
One that might not only get the Mets’ captain going, but which could once again get his team back on track.