Lucas Duda spent the spring trudging around left field until an intercostal strain and a dose of reality dictated that he stop. He then spent the summer in Las Vegas. When he returned, he went from left field to left out, with first base occupied by fellow reclamation project Ike Davis.
Then Ike strained something (the Mets are rich in young pitching and body parts that can be hurt, though I’m not sure in what order) and suddenly first base was essentially granted to Lucas by default, with the Mets all but pleading with him to do something with it. Which, for much of September, he hadn’t done.
Well, until Mister Hand, less formally known as Brad, hung a curveball in the sixth to which Duda said aloha. (I’m the first to make that joke, right? Maybe the thousandth-and-first?) Giancarlo Stanton, he of not one but two home-run balls that might have killed an outfielder unlucky enough to be in their way, actually caught Duda’s drive on the bounce, but the bounce had come off the netting atop the Mo Zone, which doesn’t count as anything except a home run unless Angel Hernandez is an attendance, which mercifully he was not.
It’s wrong to say Duda hasn’t evolved in his Mets career — he’s gone from riddle to conundrum, with a fine eye for the strike zone offset by a certain passivity at the plate. Think of him as the anti-Francoeur — a player who sometimes seems like he’s forgotten you can hit your way on base, too. More nights like tonight’s would certainly help him, though one gets the feeling that a trade to a team where he could DH would be the kindest thing of all.
Speaking of forgotten men, Duda got his chance in the sixth because Hand tiptoed around Andrew Brown, understandably spooked by a second-inning blast Brown had delivered into the second deck. (If you’re keeping score that’s two completely unoriginal jokes, sorry.) Brown’s had an odd year, too — the Mets called him up in May and he looked like he deserved a shot, particularly given the state of the outfield then, but he was shipped out in favor of Rick Ankiel, which is the kind of thing that can make you think “I’m too old for this shit” even if you’re just 28. When the Mets determined the large fork in Ankiel’s back was negatively affecting his ability to play, Brown got back to the big leagues and played well when finally given some time, only to fall on his face in September — today’s game raised his average for the month to .056.
At least he’s got plenty of company in that.
In the end, the Mets’ forgotten men were the keys to a relatively tidy, unobjectionable win, with LaTroy Hawkins striking out Stanton to lead off the ninth and avert another unwanted marathon. Then again, the lead the Mets took on Duda’s homer was their first since Sunday against the Indians — they never led for so much as a nano-second while being eviscerated by the Nats.
Which is the kind of thing you wish you could forget.