WASHINGTON - What began as another sedate afternoon in the Mets' clubhouse was interrupted Monday when Jeff Francoeur sent David Wright flying into a concrete wall. Francoeur, a defensive back in high school, showed perfect form in leveling the third baseman as if Wright were a wide receiver who had been jumped on a screen pass.
Given the Mets' seemingly endless disabled list this season, playing cards probably was a safer choice than re-enacting moments from the Jets-Titans game. But Francoeur has blended in so easily with his new team that it feels as if he's been here for three years instead of less than three months.
It's more of a surprise to hear Francoeur say there's no place he'd rather be. He's stuck on a Mets team that has dropped 90 games after last night's 2-1 loss to the Nationals, and the resurgent Braves - his former club - have been closing fast on a potential wild-card berth. Still, when asked Monday if he wishes he could be a part of that playoff chase with Atlanta, Francoeur shook his head.
"I wish them nothing but the best," Francoeur said, "but to be honest with you, there's not even a .1 percent chance that I'd want to be back there right now. It has nothing to do with the people there because I love Bobby [Cox] and I love that team. But sometimes you just gotta get out of the situation, and I was a guy that needed to get out."
The Braves granted Francoeur that wish July 10, shipping him to the Mets for Ryan Church. On the surface, it seemed to be cruel and unusual punishment, especially for a player born and raised in Atlanta who still lives in suburban Duluth. On top of that, the Mets were teetering on the edge of oblivion, with what turned out to be false hope for a second-half rebound.
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And yet Francoeur couldn't wait to get to the Mets. When Cox called him into his office at Coors Field and told him the news, Francoeur was elated. Looking back now, he knew it would be better, but not this good, even with the Mets 23½ games out of first place.
Francoeur is batting .308 with 19 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 39 RBIs in 70 games since joining the Mets. For the past month, he's done it with a torn ligament in his left thumb that will need surgery after the season. There are occasions when Francoeur grimaces from that pain, but he usually has a grin on his face.
When told that most players would be sulking if they had been traded by a contender to an also-ran, Francoeur suggested that his case is different.
"I don't think a lot of people went through what I went through as far as being from Atlanta," Francoeur said. "Everything for 2½ years was great, and then it just kind of ended. I know people will say you can't be having fun now, but I see the big picture. I see what we can do next year and the following years here. We're not going to have this kind of team."
Francoeur, 25, is so comfortable with the Mets that he wants to sit down with Omar Minaya this offseason to talk about a multiyear contract that would buy out his remaining arbitration and keep him here for an extended period. If Francoeur can be this happy - and productive - during the worst of times, that might not be a bad idea.
"I'd love for that to happen," Francoeur said. "I think there's a lot to be said when you feel like you can pencil a guy in for 158 games and not have to worry about rightfield. It can help a manager, and it can help a GM when they're putting a team together. Hopefully, that's how they feel."
Notes & quotes: Nelson Figueroa (2-8) allowed only two runs in six innings but still slipped to his fifth straight loss. Mike Morse's homer off Figueroa in the sixth snapped a 1-1 tie. Nationals starter Ross Detwiler (1-6) earned his first career win.