David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PHILADELPHIA - The first thing David Wright said to Terry Collins upon Monday's return to the Mets was not to feel obligated to play him. A few hours, and a 428-foot home run later, Wright was beaming at his locker, unable to bottle up the joy from a 16-7 trashing of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
"This team seems like it's on a mission," Wright said afterward, "and I'm glad to be a part of it."
During his four months away, Wright saw what was happening with the Mets, mostly on TV but occasionally up close, in the same clubhouse at Citi, or Petco Park or Dodger Stadium.
"Those guys never believed they were going to lose," Wright said.
They were winning without their injured captain, and had been atop the NL East for three weeks. So before Monday's game, Wright talked about being just another piece, and hoping to contribute, and understanding the need to share third base.
Wright didn't believe that, of course. No seven-time All-Star on a potential Cooperstown track ever would. But for any captain worth the title, it had to be done. Standing at his locker, penned in by TV cameras and reporters, Wright swallowed his pride and entertained the idea of being a complementary player.
"I think I'm at the point now where the ego is much further behind actually winning," Wright said.
But Wright, now in his 12th season with the Mets, has never been just another guy in the room, enjoying the ride. For all the talk about the pressure being off Wright, now that he's returning to a vastly improved roster, he's not wired that way.
And Collins knows it, too. The manager must have said "Florida State League" a half-dozen times Sunday to stress the adjustment Wright would have to endure in the jump from Class A St. Lucie. But when it came time for Collins to write out Monday's lineup card, he didn't hesitate to put Wright in the cleanup spot.
Why not? After all, that's who Wright is. And for those who may have forgotten, Wright quickly reminded them by blasting the third pitch he saw from Phillies starter Adam Morgan into the second deck in leftfield.
"That was really cool," Michael Cuddyer said. "I felt really good for him and really good for us."
It was a spectacular home run, and reached a section of seats that few baseballs do, even at a launch pad like this one. As much as Wright has abused the Phillies in their own backyard, we didn't see it coming. Not after his offensive production at St. Lucie totaled nine singles in eight games.
Now we know how much those statistics mattered: zero. Instead of getting the 32-year-old, diluted All-Star with a back condition, the Mets may have just added the lethal bat responsible for the numbers on the flip side of Wright's baseball card. It's only one night -- Wright went with 2-for-5 with an RBI -- but we already feel stupid for doubting him.
As Wright's return crept closer, we figured he was through trying to carry the Mets, his back too weak to shoulder the load he's been lugging around since Carlos Beltran was traded midway through the 2011 season. To an extent, that's true. The Mets now have Yoenis Cespedes, who batted in Wright's former No. 3 spot Monday night, and just scored 33 runs in three games at Coors Field.
But that doesn't change anything for Wright.
On Monday, Wright's second-inning homer was the Mets' first run as they climbed back from deficits of 3-0 and 7-1 to hammer the Phillies. Coincidence? We think not.
"Unbelievable," Wright said. "An unbelievable team win."
A Mets team that he's part of again. And its captain for a reason.