Escaping from quicksand requires the suppression of natural impulse.
Once entrapped, one must ignore the urge to counter with force, because doing so only proves futile. The harder the fight, the faster the descent.
Latest Mets stories
That's a lesson that should have stuck with David Wright.
"He did it the second half of last year, too," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who recalled Wright's attempt to singlehandedly carry an entire team, an effort that plunged him into a slump. "When things started to go bad last year, he took it upon himself to be the guy to get us out of it."
Yet Wright finds himself stuck in a similar trap, sinking more and more by the day. He knows better than to believe he can revive an offense that flatlined more than a month ago, an offense that has yet to regain its pulse, an offense that simply may prove doomed from the start.
He has tried anyway, and in the process, has buckled under the weight of an impossible task.
"I'm maybe trying to do a little too much and trying to make some things happen," Wright said the other day. "That's not really our game and that's not really my game. I can't be going up there and getting myself out or swinging at pitcher's pitches early in the count because that's counterproductive."
Despite a promising start, the Mets' offense has slipped to 3.96 runs per game, 22nd in the majors through Sunday, well below the major-league average of 4.25. They also rank well below average in on-base percentage (.295) and slugging percentage (.371). They will begin a three-game series in Washington tonight with a team batting average of .227 -- the lowest in baseball.
Collins has gone to great lengths to exercise patience, resolving "not to just throw your hands up" at his team's sinking offense. But even he admitted this week that in all his years in a dugout, he's never encountered such widespread futility.
"It's amazing, it really is," Collins said. "I never predicted that we would struggle this much. You knew there would be some guys that could go hot and cold on you. But not at one time."
Now the list includes Wright, who in the last two weeks is hitting .163 and reaching base at a troubling .241 clip. He has one homer and two RBIs during a span in which he has been dragged down by the failures of those around him.
When given the benefit of a supporting cast, a luxury he was afforded when he morphed into Captain America at the World Baseball Classic, Wright embodies all the virtues of the Mets' offensive philosophy. He strikes a balance of selectivity and aggressiveness. He's prepared to jump on mistake pitches and also is disciplined enough to lay off, even if it means taking a walk and leaving a teammate to deliver the big hit.
"He's the paradigm," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said recently.
But without a supporting cast, Wright has chosen to force the issue, a decision that is as destructive as it is admirable.
This season, Wright has walked in 12.8 percent of his plate appearances and has swung at 26.2 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, an indication of his characteristic discipline. But in the last two weeks, he has taken fewer walks (5.6 percent) and chased more pitches out of the zone (32.4 percent), hastening his descent into the quicksand.
"Obviously, he's the key to our lineup and he knows that," Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens said. "And when guys are struggling like we have the last few weeks, he's going to try to pick it up and carry it.
"The thing is, he can't do it all by himself, even if he's locked in."
For the Mets to truly take advantage of Wright's presence in the lineup, those ahead of him must reach base and those behind him must make opponents think twice about pitching around the perennial All-Star.
On both fronts, the Mets have failed miserably.
Gotta set the table
In 54 games, Collins has sifted through 45 lineup combinations, including eight different leadoff hitters. Each change has been designed to put Wright in position to produce. Nothing has worked.
Though Wright has hit almost exclusively in the third position, he has come to bat with only 132 runners on base, barely placing him in the top 75 in all of baseball. By comparison, even though he's spent most of the season in the leadoff spot, the Cardinals' Jon Jay has come to bat with 145 runners aboard.
"We're not even getting a chance to be a good situational hitting team because we can't get anybody on base," Wright said, speaking of the team as a whole. "We need to start getting some guys on base."
Meanwhile, with nobody to dissuade them, opponents have pitched around Wright. The Mets' combined .610 on-base plus slugging percentage from the cleanup spot is the lowest in baseball.
In recent days, Hudgens and Collins have urged Wright to resist the temptation to force the issue, imploring him to take walks when given.
They have pointed out encouraging signs from Lucas Duda and Ike Davis. Indeed, both have the ability to hit for power.
But until somebody actually delivers, Wright finds himself at odds, forced to choose between waiting for help and sinking further into the quicksand.
"Sooner or later, somebody is going to start hitting behind him; then he'll start getting some balls to hit," Collins said. "But it's tough.
"It's tough when you're him."