Lucas Duda returned to the Mets last month as a man without a role.
Ike Davis had returned from exile to play first base, Duda's natural position. And the outfield no longer was an option after a failed experiment to play Duda in leftfield, where he was stationed on Opening Day.
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But fate has since afforded a second chance to Duda, whose three-run homer Friday night pushed the Mets to a 4-3 victory over the Marlins.
"This is his chance to play every day at first base, where that's his position," Terry Collins said. "That's where he likes to play. We're hoping that he relaxes at the plate, that he doesn't have to make up for worrying about playing defense because we know he can play first."
With the Mets' playoff chances long evaporated, the remainder of the season will function as nothing more than a proving ground going into next year. Few have more at stake than the hulking Duda, who buckled under the strain of playing in leftfield.
"It's just the comfort level," Duda said about playing first base, where his defensive shortcomings are more easily hidden. "I'm more relaxed when I come to the ballpark every day."
The Mets had lost four straight and trailed 1-0 on the first of Giancarlo Stanton's two solo homers. But Jonathon Niese settled down, allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings, struck out seven and walked none. Andrew Brown hit a tying solo homer in the second, and with the Mets down 2-1 in the sixth, Duda cleared the bases with his three-run bomb, jumping on a hanging curveball from lefty Brad Hand.
Rookie Vic Black teamed with Pedro Feliciano to protect a one-run lead in the eighth. LaTroy Hawkins worked a scoreless ninth for his ninth save. Said Collins: "It's a big swing for us, it's a big game for us to win."
And it was just as big for Duda to take advantage of his opportunity. The homer was his 13th of the season and second since his recall from Triple-A Las Vegas last month. It ended what had been an unusual streak.
After he hit a two-run blast April 3, Duda's next 11 homers were solo shots. Still, the Mets hold out hope that he can grow into a run-producer in the middle of their lineup. With Davis out with an oblique injury, Duda has been given an extended audition at first base, where the Mets hope he fulfills his power potential.
"Here's his shot to say hey, look, I'm going to be a legitimate candidate, you're going to have to think about me next year at that spot," Collins said. "That's why we're hoping that here, again as we finish the season out, Lucas does what we know he can do."
Notes & quotes: Third baseman David Wright tested his hamstring again during on-field drills before the game. He ran the bases, moved laterally and charged slow grounders to work on his body control. "He looks great," Collins said. "We're going to advance the effort tomorrow on the bases." Wright has been out since Aug. 2 but hopes to return before the season is over . . . East Setauket and Ward Melville product Steven Matz pitched 52/3 innings to lead Class A Savannah to a 2-0 victory over Hagerstown that clinched the South Atlantic League title.