No one has to remind the Mets that their lineup is not Murderers' Row. So they have a new organization-wide philosophy about hitting that basically says this: Be smart, be patient and be ready.
The Mets have to choose their pitches and pick their spots. So it almost seemed by design in a 6-1 win over the Padres on Friday night that Lucas Duda, struggling to hit home runs, hit a key home run and that Ike Davis, struggling to hit at all, had a huge two-out, two-run single to give Dillon Gee a five-run cushion.
And when it comes to being smart, patient and ready, nobody is a better fit than Mike Baxter.
"There are guys who are high draft picks and cruise through the minor leagues and got to the big leagues," Terry Collins said. "And there were those other guys who had to grind it out."
Baxter, a native of Whitestone and a product of Archbishop Molloy High School, was and is a grinder who learned how to pick his spots in six years in the Padres organization and the last two with the Mets. He squeezed his way onto the club as a pinch hitter and forced his way into the lineup Friday night with a .360 batting average. He loves the way the Mets are teaching batters to work the count and wait for the right moment. "I've seen huge gains from it," he said. "So I'm a huge advocate."
This time, he was a huge part of the Mets' win, with his feet, glove, hands, arm and bat. He made the tide-turning play in leftfield in the first and had the deciding hit, a tiebreaking double in the third.
Who knows if Gee (4-3) would have settled into a groove and thrown a career-high nine strikeouts in seven innings had Baxter not started a double play with a running, leaping catch at the leftfield wall? With runners on first and third and one out, he caught Jesus Guzman's deep fly, came down and fired it to cutoff man Ronny Cedeño, who relayed to first to double up Yonder Alonso. A run scored, but a rally was averted.
"All I could say was 'Thanks,' " Gee said later.
Davis, who made the putout at first, said, "It was just a really, really nice play."
In the third, right after Gee had doubled to left-center, Baxter hit a shot in just about the same spot, sending Gee home to make it 2-1.
"You want to try to have a good at-bat where you're swinging at the right kind of pitches, regardless of the count," Baxter said of the Mets' philosophy. "If you get the right pitch early, offer at it and try to square it up. If you don't, wait for your pitch."
Duda, the cleanup hitter, had done the same, tying the game in the second with his first homer since April 26. "For me to be a productive big-leaguer, I have to hit home runs," he said.
The Mets again picked their spots with two outs in the fifth, as Daniel Murphy ended an 0-for-15 slide with a run-producing double and Davis, slumping most of the season, had a two-run single up the middle.
"I think when you look back on this game, Ike's hit was huge," Baxter said.
Davis, reprieved from a possible trip to the minors, was smart, patient and ready. "It's just," Davis said, "what I'm supposed to do."