Mike Baxter extended his arms, turned his body toward the dugout, and waited for the wave of teammates to crash into him. He stood near first base for only half a second before they arrived en masse to celebrate his latest heroics.
For the second time in three days, Baxter delivered the game-winning hit, this time in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win over the Pirates Thursday night.
When Pirates reliever Jason Grilli left a fastball over the heart of the plate, Baxter was ready to jump on it, ripping it through the right side of the infield. Each of the Mets' last three home victories have come on their final at-bat.
"It's always good to have a plan when you go up to the plate, and for me personally, I feel like that approach helps," said Baxter, who has adopted a more aggressive approach as a pinch hitter, a role in which he's 5-for-9 this season.
"It's truly amazing because that is one tough job," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who has benefitted from Baxter's knack for hitting off the bench.
Baxter might not have gotten the chance to win it had it not been for centerfielder Juan Lagares, who likely saved the game for the Mets in the ninth. The Pirates nearly pushed ahead against closer Bobby Parnell. With two down and a runner on first base, the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen drove a ball to the fence in center. It appeared likely to bounce off the top of the wall for an extra-base hit -- good enough to score the go-ahead run.
But Lagares, in the lineup for his superb glove, made a leaping catch against the fence to end the inning.
"I just said 'You know what, I've got to go hard,' " Lagares said. "Because that at-bat right there can be the game. I got a good jump and I got the ball."
The Mets needed all the help they could get to make up for an offense that continues to languish. Before the game, Collins once again reshuffled the deck, stacking the lineup with righthanders to combat the effect of Pirates' lefty starter Jeff Locke.
By first pitch Thursday night, Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Jordany Valdespin watched from the dugout as Justin Turner, Byrd and Lagares played in their place.
Even with the changes, the Mets managed just three runs, giving them just 25 in their last 10 games at Citi Field for an average of just 2.5. They are hitting only .189 as a team during that span. And Thursday night, they finished with only one hit with a runner in scoring position.
But it came at the most opportune time.
The Mets took a 1-0 lead on Byrd's sacrifice fly in the second though the Pirates evened the score in the sixth, when Mets starter Dillon Gee left with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Davis, who entered the game on a double switch, scorched a run-scoring double to score Brown in the seventh. But the Mets' lead was short-lived. With one out in the eighth, Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez tied it at 2 with a solo homer. It was the first earned run allowed by Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins since April 10, a stretch of 10 consecutive outings.
With one swing, Baxter turned the blown lead into a side note. "You're just trying to get a good pitch to hit, early or late in the count, whatever it is," Baxter said. "But off the bench, you want to make sure you're not taking."