Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Corner Turned

One of the more pleasant surprises that's come about for the Mets in recent weeks is the fact that Lucas Duda has finally woken up, started getting a little aggressive at the plate and begun to get some real big-time clutch hits. Friday night was easily the most obvious example of this; his 2-run Home Run in the 9th inning flipped the game completely. With the Mets having put forth a mostly lifeless effort for 8 innings against Yovani Gallardo and the Brewers, the Mets went out against old friend Francisco Rodriguez and lit into him with a ferocity they haven't displayed much of of late. In the span of 3 batters and 8 pitches, the Mets turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead that eventually turned into a 3-2 win that you can more or less say they stole from the Brewers, because they had absolutely no life whatsoever going into the top of the 9th.

The game had, up until the 9th inning, shaped up like another of those games where I'd have to sum up by talking about how well the Mets starter—in this case, Zack Wheeler—pitched, and how he did yeoman's work keeping the Mets in the game, but ultimately it was an effort made in hopeless circumstances. Wheeler continued on his recent hot streak, throwing shutout ball into the 6th, only breaking a sweat when Daniel Murphy made one of his patented spastic fit errors, yakking on a ground ball and then chasing it into the Outfield and making an ill-advised throw to 1st. In the 6th, Murphy gagged once again, letting a Ryan Braun grounder go through his legs completely, and in this particular instance, it ended up costing Wheeler the first run of the game. One inning later, Carlos Gomez took one of his 8-mile swings and hit a Home Run to make the score 2-0, and at that point, Wheeler was done for the night; his 6.2 inning effort was at times dazzling, but to that point not good enough to earn himself or the Mets a win. And that wasn't because of anything he did wrong, it was because his teammates couldn't get a hit off Gallardo and because Murphy had a fit of himself at an inopportune moment.

But then came the 9th, and in came dear old K-Rod, excommunicated from the Mets, shoved into a setup role with the Brewers, traded to the Orioles and then returning to the Brewers and falling into the closer's role by accident when Jim Henderson came down with a case of Being-A-Major-League-Closer-Itis. Somehow, this seemed like one of those nights when the Mets had a rally in them, and I'm not quite sure why I felt that way, and it seems I wasn't the only one who felt that way, and, quite fortunately, the first three batters in the 9th inning for the Mets seemed to feel that way as well. Enough was enough, let's get up there and get some hits, and that's what they did. First, it was Daniel Murphy, who hit an opposite field double to get things started. David Wright followed with the key at bat in the sequence, an at bat where he seemed to have a handle on whatever K-Rod was throwing him, like all those years being his teammate might have worked to his advantage. Whatever it was, it worked, Wright eventually got enough of a pitch to flair it out into Right center to score Murphy, and set the stage for the suddenly clutch bat of Lucas Duda, who perhaps a month or two ago might have taken two strikes before flailing at a slider 10 feet off the plate, but on this night was up there hacking at a first pitch fastball and slamming it out into the Mets bullpen for a lightning-like Home Run that gave the Mets the lead.

If I were Daniel Murphy, I would be taking Lucas Duda out to dinner for the remainder of the road trip, and perhaps for the first couple of nights of next week's homestand for bailing my ass out like that. But more than that, how about the fact that somehow, Lucas Duda has become a trusted power bat in the middle of the lineup? When the hell did that happen. He's more than proved that Alderson was justified in keeping him and dealing Ike Davis, and he's making me look rather foolish for flogging him for as long as I did, but I'll happily admit that I was wrong, particularly if he keeps this up. Very quietly, Duda now has a club-leading 17 Home Runs and 53 RBI, which isn't an eye-popping number, but considering how sparingly the Mets score, it's not a bad number, and a 25-90 season would be a delight. Moreover, the fact that he's now consistently hitting for some power is a much-welcome sight on a team where nobody seemed to step up and take on that role. Imagine how he'd do if he had a little protection around him in the lineup. Hint hint...

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