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Lucas, Like Us, Responds

The key to winning Saturday night’s game against the Nationals can be traced to the moment the Mets determined they needed to plant a genuine slugger in the heart of their batting order. Of course I’m referring to Lucas Duda [1], who the Mets acquired for future considerations last week, as in Lucas being told by his manager, in essence, genuinely slug or consider your immediate future limited.

According to Terry Collins, the conversation went something like this [2]:

“Listen, we’ve got to start producing some runs, or we’ve got to find somebody else.”

“I got it.”

Sounds about right. I assume Lucas stopped hitting home runs for a spell because he forgot he was supposed to. He just needed a friendly reminder.

Glad somebody said something. We needed his bat. We needed Yoenis Cespedes [3]’s bat, too, but without Duda doing what we remember him doing so well and so frequently last summer, we’d lack the one-two punch we are relying on to complement our one-two-three starters in this critical series and the rest of the season beyond.

Cespedes showed up and didn’t do any hitting to speak of, but he served a pair of mammoth purposes. First, I suppose, he helped sell out Citi Field and plug it in so it could go electric. Most importantly, though, he stood in the batter’s box in the bottom of the eighth, imposingly enough to get himself ordered intentionally walked by Matt Williams [4], super genius. Curtis Granderson [5] was on second, the score was tied and the specter of the Mets’ new slugger filleting or perhaps fricasseeing Matt Thornton [6] was too frightening for Washington’s Leader of Men to contemplate.

Williams might have been so immersed in staring at The Book (specifically the Lefty Must Face Lefty chapter) that he didn’t notice waiting right behind the new bat was the bat that had been there all along, the same bat responsible for the Mets’ two runs already on the board. Lucas Duda homered in the fourth. He homered in the seventh. Why would a manager go out of his way to bring him to the plate with two on so soon after he homered twice?

“Why ask why?” the makers of Bud Dry once asked, and I’ll go with that answer. Williams was nice enough to invite Lucas to an RBI party and our cleanup hitter RSVPed with a long double to left that brought Granderson home with the go-ahead run, soon to be known as the winning [7] run.

Duda drove in all three runs the Mets scored Saturday. He’s been doing a lot of that sort of thing lately. He’s hit eight homers in seven games, though none was quite as big as the two-base hit he delivered in the eighth. Mets starter No. 1A, Jacob deGrom [8], was a little off early, allowing two runs in the first, but then nothing else. Joe Ross [9] was mostly untouchable, except for Lucas touching him meaningfully twice, both times with no runners on. Only a mope would observe seven of the eight home runs Duda’s launched dating back to last Saturday were solo shots…or that he’s hit only three home runs all year while a runner’s been on base.

Then again, since when did the 2015 Mets have baserunners until the last week or so? Cespedes was granted a base based solely on reputation. Think anybody was walking John Mayberry [10] to get to Lucas Duda? Still, Duda had to swing and connect to make Williams live to regret his fealty to conventional wisdom, and that he did. It was been the biggest hit in the history of Citi Field, exceeding the last biggest hit in the history of Citi Field — which for now I’d say was Duda’s second home run of the game, the biggest game in the history of Citi Field, surpassing Friday’s [11] on a list marked mostly by brevity.

I don’t believe there’s a Top Three Biggest Games in the History of Citi Field, at least not until tonight’s unfolds.

We’re in that zone where every good thing that happens at Citi Field is the biggest thing to have ever happened at Citi Field because, to date, not nearly enough has happened at Citi Field. Not nearly enough you’d call big, anyway. A handful of individual and milestone oases notwithstanding, it’s been six seasons spent trudging through the Flushing desert. As I mentioned in the wake of the latest Worst Loss Ever [12], I’ve attended precisely 200 games at Citi Field. There’s been plenty to see, but little that’s mattered profoundly.

The last two games have offered a refresher to Mets fans everywhere what it’s like to watch a game your team absolutely must win and simultaneously must not lose. You might have forgotten how those work in the post-2008 period during which you’d nod politely at wins, shrug cynically at losses and wonder if you’d ever be moved to care deeply again.

That’s over for now. I hope it’s over forever, but let’s work on now for now. It’s early August and you look at the standings and…well, there ya go. You look at the standings. You pore over the N.L. East and stare at the Mets’ position and it bumps practically right up against that of the team that leads the pack. Objects one game back in second place, whether Matt Williams realizes it or not, may be closer than they appear.

Friday night, when not embracing the incredible, edible Wilmer Flores from my couch (honestly, he’s so frigging adorable [13] you could just eat him up), I was on the phone offering hybrid play-by-play/analysis to my permanent bandwagoneer friend Chuck [14], who had called in from Illinois so we could watch the game together. We used to do that when the homers were belted by Piazza and Ventura, when it was Cook and Wendell holding the fort after Leiter or Reed had given it his all. Maybe it was Chuck’s presence in my ear provoking my dormant expert color commentary skills (“What the fuck? He didn’t hit him! WHAT THE FUCK?”) or Wilmer’s blue moon peering in from outside my living room window, but I knew I was occupying a headspace I hadn’t often visited in the past fifteen or so years, and I was reveling in it.

This was the Bobby V era version of me on the line, unironically, unabashedly convinced that the next pitch would surely determine whether our world had any reason to continue its trip around the sun. It was all highly stressful before it all became highly rewarding, yet it pleased me no end that I could still get the old angst churning on behalf of a baseball game. That feeling ensued throughout Saturday night, too. I don’t anticipate chasing it away any time soon.

“Listen,” the pennant race seems to be telling me, “we’ve got to start producing some stomach acid, or we’ve got to find somebody else.”

I got it.