David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
LOS ANGELES -- The knee-bending, mouth-roaring fist pump. Anything that followed David Wright's raw burst of emotion -- a blast from the past, if you will -- couldn't possibly come close to capturing the significance of that precise moment when the Mets' captain became a playoff hero again.
That moment was the seventh inning of Friday night's NLDS Game 1, when Wright, hitless to that point, approached the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
The night wasn't going all that great for Wright, who had whiffed twice, but then his luck improved.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly removed Clayton Kershaw, calling on hard-throwing righthander Pedro Baez. So Wright got a quickie scouting report from hitting coach Kevin Long, battled the best he could against five straight fastballs and lined the sixth, a 99-mph pitch, for a two-run single to centerfield.
On contact, the tenor of the game changed. Wright allowed the Mets to breathe, giving them a 3-0 lead, and even celebrate a little. Wright definitely did. As soon as he rounded first base, the emotion poured out.
"It was cool," Wright said after the Mets' 3-1 victory. "That's what I love to do. That's about as sweet as I thought it was going to be."
Leading up to the game, Wright told us over and over again how special it was to be back at Dodger Stadium, now as a player rather than a rehab patient. Rarely at a loss for words, he described the return as we figured he would -- not taking anything for granted, hoping he could manage his spinal stenosis, trying to enjoy the ride a little more.
But Wright was only guessing, imagining what Friday would actually feel like. Until it happened, there was no way of knowing.
Only one thing was certain. Wright was never going to be satisfied with merely returning to the lineup. After four months of painstaking, methodical therapy for his ailing back, he couldn't stand on ceremony.
He had to help the Mets win. Or what was the point?
"Being able to kind of come full circle and be able to enjoy it as a baseball player now," Wright said. "That meant a lot."
What else could we expect? As serious as Wright's diagnosis was earlier this season, as much as we doubted an All-Star revival for the captain, he kept making us feel stupid.
On the night of his Aug. 24 return at Citizens Bank Park, Wright hit one of the longest home runs we've ever seen there, into the second deck in leftfield -- in his very first at-bat.
Two weeks ago, in the Mets' division-clincher at Great American Ball Park, Wright got the party started with another monster shot.
On Friday, Wright didn't need to leave the park to make his most significant impact this season and re-affirm his status as the heartbeat of this franchise.
"That's just who he is," Terry Collins said. "I have no other way to describe it. He's a big-time player, and when you need him, he seems to get the big hit."
But Wright set the tone for Game 1 earlier than that. The Mets knew their best shot to beat Kershaw was to drain him early, extract as many pitches as possible, even if they couldn't do much damage on the scoreboard. And Wright went to work in his first at-bat, fighting Kershaw for 12 pitches, fouling off five with a 3-and-2 count to ultimately draw a walk.
That helped plant the seed for what came to fruition much later, and Wright was the beneficiary in the seventh.
Mattingly was worried about sticking with Kershaw, figuring that Wright would get to the lefthander eventually despite striking out in the previous two trips.
If not for Mattingly's advice, at this very ballpark, about playing with his back issues, Wright might never have come to the plate in that spot.
But there he was, leaving his imprint on this Division Series and allowing the Mets to swipe home-field advantage away from the Dodgers. Most of all, with that swing, Wright turned back the clock.
"I wanted to make up for lost time," he said.
It's been nine years since the Mets' last trip to the playoffs, but Wright helped press the re-set button Friday night for this franchise. Just by doing the same things he's always done, with maybe a little more feeling.