PHILADELPHIA - David Wright couldn't stand upright without feeling pain. Afflicted with a newly-diagnosed back condition, one that some believed might threaten his career, he was banished to purgatory.
While he reigned as the captain of the Mets, he could only watch on television from afar, a quasi member of the team. He carried that sorrow until Monday night, when with one mighty swing, the Mets captain reasserted his presence in a pennant race for the first time in years.
"I had to be careful," Wright said after homering in his first at-bat in his first game back. "I almost pulled a Wilmer Flores out there."
There were no tears from Wright, just joy after his towering blast in the second inning kick-started a memorable 16-7 victory over the Phillies.
The Mets set a franchise record with eight homers as they vaulted to a season-high 5 1/2 games over the Nationals for first place in the NL East. And for the first time since April 14 -- his last game before being diagnosed with spinal stenosis -- Wright truly belonged to a team transformed.
Until Monday night, he had not participated in a pennant race since the collapse of 2008.
"I think the home run really picked us up," manager Terry Collins said.
On the third pitch he saw, on the first swing he took in his first at-bat, Wright's blast traveled 428 feet, according to Statcast. It came off the bat at 108 mph, and landed in the upper deck in the far reaches of leftfield at Citizens Bank Park.
Wright, who had only nine singles in his minor-league rehab stint, circled the bases at a rapid clip. In the dugout, Michael Cuddyer said the Mets couldn't decide how to greet the captain. So they simply mobbed him with high-fives.
Not all of his first game back went smoothly. At third base, Wright made two errors, the second on a routine grounder that elicited an out-of-character display of anger. The miscues provided a hint of the potential awkwardness that could come if Wright fails to regain his form.
Already, he and Collins have come to an understanding that his stature alone won't keep him in the lineup. But Wright spoke about not letting things get to that point. Batting in the cleanup spot, he offered a glimpse of the talent that remains.
Wright reached base three times in six plate appearances, adding a walk and a broken-bat single to his homer, his first since April 10.
He wasted little time getting reacclimated. A night before his return, he greeted the team at their hotel donning a full game uniform while bringing cookies for the entire traveling party. "Just boredom," he said.
In enemy territory, Wright found plenty of supporters. One held a sign that read simply: "Welcome Back Captain." Longtime Braves tormentor Chipper Jones even chimed in on social media, tweeting support for his former rival.
Hours before first pitch, Wright plopped down on a black stretching mat in a hallway near the clubhouse. Later, his voice boomed through a tunnel near the dugout, where he and his teammates laughed through a round of batting practice.
When it came time to take swings on the field, a large group of Mets fans showered him with applause before and after each turn in the cage.
Said Wright: "It's incredible to be a part of it."