There was no “Friends” theme music, and no tears, but when Wilmer Flores stepped up to the plate Monday evening, it certainly felt like old times.
There was applause – a little like the rhythmic clapping that used to follow him around when he walked up to “I’ll Be There For You” – and there were chants, of course. Back in the day, it wasn’t all that uncommon for Citi Field faithful to boom “Wil-Mer Flo-res” when he came up to bat – thanks in no small part to his uncanny ability to get big hits when it matters the most (his 10 walk-off RBIs are the most in franchise history).
And there was a home run. Of course.
It was, all told, everything Flores could have asked for. He got a video, a standing ovation and, in his second at bat, managed to homer off Jacob deGrom, of all things. It was his eighth homer of the year and his sixth in 15 games, and the solo shot to left cut the Diamondbacks’ deficit in half. All this time later, Flores is still clutch – just, you know, for another team.
“New York is always going to be home,” said Flores, who spent six seasons with the team, and had been with the organization since he was a teen. “It’s good to be back… I have to thank them a lot. They gave me the opportunity to play for the first time. I appreciate them.”
The Mets, it seemed, appreciate him right back – well, as much as they can considering that they’re technically still battling the Diamondbacks and a few other teams for an outside chance at the second wild card spot. They played a tribute video before the first pitch, which included all of Flores’ greatest hits – literal and figurative. There was his first career hit, and a handful of those walk-offs. They briefly showed him crying – the infamous game in 2015 when Flores heard he had been traded to the Brewers, and wept on the basepaths. The trade fell through, and by the time Flores hit a walk-off home run the next day, the Legend of Wilmer had grown to mythic proportions. The video showed that, too.
The botched trade also meant he got to be part of the Mets playoff run that year.
“There were a lot of great moments, but I think playing in the World Series was a moment that I’ll never forget,” Flores said before the game. Flores said then that he’s thought about what it’ll be like to be back. It’s special, of course, and fun. He's still friends with a lot of his old teammates. It's also really, really weird.
“I didn’t know where to come in, where the entrance was but it’s fun, it’s fun just being here,” he said. “They seem to be having a lot of fun, the team, the guys out there.”
It helps that he’s been thriving. The Mets non-tendered Flores in November after ending the season on the injured list for what the team termed early-onset arthritis in both knees. But instead of a stalled career, Flores has been scalding hot of late – coming into Monday’s game, he was hitting .469 with four doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs in his last 15 games. That type of hot streak is no surprise to Mets fans, who have seen Flores have a streaky stretches like this in the past.
He’s also slashing .319/.362/.486 in 75 games this year.
“I think it’s been the same thing that I’ve done in the last couple years," Flores said. "Always gotta get a good pitch, swinging at the right pitches and the rest takes care of itself."
Just like old times.