David Wright's ribs hurt. His head ached. And yet he couldn't help but smile. The playful pounding he took from his jubilant teammates after delivering a walk-off single in Thursday night's 6-5 victory over the Phillies was worth every sore spot.
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Just think how Jonathan Papelbon felt. Much, much worse, that's how. Because what the Mets did to the $50-million closer was a slow torture, punctuated by Wright's bases-loaded flare into shallow rightfield. By that point, the supposed duel between R.A. Dickey and Cole Hamels was a distant memory, replaced by the team-wide ninth-inning heroics of the "grinding" Mets, in Wright's words.
Trailing 5-4 entering the ninth, the Mets squeezed 27 pitches from Papelbon before Wright slapped the first pitch he saw for his third hit of the night and fourth RBI. It was an all-hands-on-deck effort, from Ike Davis' leadoff rocket double over leaping Jimmy Rollins -- Wright called that "Giancarlo Stanton-ish" -- to Josh Thole's sacrifice bunt to Jordany Valdespin frustrating Papelbon so much that he drilled him in the leg with a 3-and-2 pitch -- with two outs, no less.
That led to Ruben Tejada working an eight-pitch walk to load the bases and Daniel Murphy, down in the count 1-and-2, smashing a one-hopper that ricocheted off Papelbon to drive in the tying run before Wright's hit.
It was Wright's first game-ending hit since 2008, the Mets' eighth victory in their last at-bat in 2012 and their 17th comeback victory this season. They lead the National League with 184 runs scored with two outs. It also was the first time the Phillies lost when leading after eight inning; they'd been 35-0.
"We grind it out," Wright said. "The whole season, our M.O. is that we grind out at-bats, we grind out games. We don't hit for much power, we don't steal a lot of bases. We're grinders. It seems like we play the game until the last out, and those types of teams are fun to play for."
Fun? Taking a 95-mph fastball off your upper thigh, as Valdespin did in that ninth inning? Yep. Winning works better than ice on bruises, and Valdespin raced across home plate with a huge grin. But before that could happen, Tejada showed a precise eye at the plate, taking an impossibly close 2-and-2 slider for ball three and then fouling off a 91-mph splitter to stay alive.
"You have to play nine innings -- 27 outs," Tejada said. "That's part of the game."
So is survival, which is what Murphy had in mind when he fell behind 0-and-2. He fouled off a 95-mph fastball, took another, then roped a splitter back at Papelbon, nailing him in the ankle. As he scrambled to field the ball along the first-base line, he fell and couldn't make a throw. "Try to run fast," Murphy said he was thinking.
In Wright's mind, the game should have been over right there. That ball should have shot past Papelbon into centerfield. Wright probably would have preferred it that way. He hates to hit against Papelbon, which is why he jumped on the first pitch, another 95-mph heater.
"It just seems like everybody wants to be up in that situation and nobody gets overwhelmed by the moment," Wright said. "I didn't want to mess things up. I'm going to be a little more aggressive against Pap because he makes me look stupid up there."
Not this time. Wright already is an All-Star but is listed as a backup after Pablo Sandoval was voted in as the starter by San Francisco's ballot-stuffing fan base. Maybe it will make it much sweeter if Wright earns MVP honors instead. He has 18 RBIs in his last nine games, and he saved the Mets three times Thursday night. In the third inning, it was a tying single off Hamels. In the fifth, it was a go-ahead two-run homer. And in the ninth, well, add that to the resume, too.
"He's been fantastic," said Dickey, who can thank Wright for taking him off the hook for the loss. "Offensively, defensively, big hits. He's an All-Star and it's a crime he's not starting."
As he showed Thursday night, Wright would much rather finish.