Ike Davis has found a home -- and peace -- in Pittsburgh
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Ike Davis' move from the Mets to Pittsburgh began well enough with a three-game hitting streak, including a grand slam in his third game with the Pirates. But he ended that game with two empty at-bats, and over his next seven games, his hitless streak stretched to 0-for-21.
That's when Davis realized he wasn't in New York anymore, wasn't on the "most unwanted" list on the back page of the tabloids anymore, wasn't a lightning rod for the home fans' frustrations. All he heard was the sound of silence.
"No one said a word," Davis said Saturday at Yankee Stadium on his first trip to New York since the April 18 trade. "If I was back in New York, it would be like the 'count-off' in the paper -- 1-for-19 or 1-for-20. It's been nice."
Describing the biggest difference playing for the Pirates compared to the Mets, Davis added: "It's calmer, I guess. I don't know if it's a plus or a minus. It's just different cities."
Maybe it will feel different for Davis the first time he faces the Mets at Citi Field in eight days, but he emphasized repeatedly there are no recriminations or hard feelings toward the Mets. He said he had a good relationship with manager Terry Collins, was treated fairly by the organization and left a locker room full of friends.
"You guys are putting too much emphasis on the Mets," Davis told reporters. "I don't hate them. I had a great time and made great friendships. There's not a hatred toward the Mets, like 'vengeance.' I'm fine. I'm happy where I'm at. I'm not going to do anything weird to the Mets. I'm going to play and try to beat them.
"I had one bad season. They had to make a change, and they traded me away. I don't know what else to say about that. It's nice to be with a team that likes you. I don't think the Mets hated me."
The annoying part was the long goodbye, the pervasive sense of anticipation that he would be traded and constantly having to answer questions about a situation over which he had no control other than his performance on the field. It was an uncomfortable phenomena that began when he was sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 10 last season just a few months after hitting 32 home runs in 2012.
Part of it stemmed from the fact that the Mets had an alternative at first base in Lucas Duda. "Obviously, me and Duda couldn't exist together," Davis said. "It would be a waste of his or my time to not play or to go to Triple-A. We like each other, and we wished it could work. But you can't have two first basemen that are both lefthanded on the same team. Obviously, something had to change."
Whatever capital Davis accumulated with the Mets during that 32-homer season dissipated during his prolonged slumps last season. He was the one Met who demonstrated the ability to go deep on a regular basis at Citi Field, where it seems the power is always out.
Davis shrugged when asked if that season should have bought him more time, saying, "It bought me time with the Pirates."
That it did. And since Davis ended that 0-for-21 slide, he has rebounded to hit .326 in May, lifting his average to .258. Including his second-inning walk in the Pirates' 7-1 loss to the Yankees Saturday, Davis has reached base safely in 11 of his past 12 games, though he struck out in his final three at-bats. He still has only two home runs and 12 RBIs, but even Davis joked that he's way ahead of the game compared to his customary slow starts.
"I'm playing better," Davis said of the change of scenery. "I haven't had a batting average [above .200] in the first two months in four years. Right now, I feel pretty good at the plate. It's been nice."
Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen said the Pirates welcomed Davis into their midst "with open arms and made it as easy as we could for him to get acclimated. He's a guy who can hit for power. That's definitely a bonus for us."
After ending their 21-year playoff drought with a wild-card berth last season, the Pirates have fallen back near the bottom of the National League Central this year. But manager Clint Hurdle has been careful not to pressure Davis to knock down the fences. He's batted Davis sixth and run him out to first base game after game.
Describing his message to Davis, Hurdle said: " 'Down the road, we'll get to where you've been. I just want to let you know where you are and who we are. And we're happy to have you. We think you're going to add value to everything we do. You're here to play. Try to find a reset button.'
"I told him, 'I've got a chalkboard that's got nothing written on it. You and I will write it together, and we'll go from there.' I think it was more important for him to know what our expectations were. Basically, it was just to come and play first base, don't miss a turn in the lineup, have some fun and know this is an opportunity for a brand new start."
Hurdle stressed to Davis that he's not expected to carry the Pirates. When Davis fell into that early slump, Hurdle said: "We kept reminding him we're in this for the long haul. This isn't a tryout camp."
Davis is the Pirates' first baseman. No questions asked. And when you consider Davis exchanged Citi Field's hitter-unfriendly dimensions for beautiful PNC Park in Pittsburgh, his future looks that much brighter.
"It's more relaxed," Davis said of his new home. "They have great fans in Pittsburgh. You still get booed if you strike out, but it's been fun. It's a beautiful stadium. Obviously, a little shorter in right, which is nice, but it's not a bandbox by any means. I enjoy playing there."