Travis d'Arnaud walked up to the plate, hands loose and mind at ease.
Never mind that his position on the team was in jeopardy no less than a month ago. Never mind that this series against the Braves is as close to do or die as the Mets' dim playoff hopes will allow. And never mind that before getting sent to Triple-A Las Vegas in early June, he was hitting .180.
Because if there's one thing that d'Arnaud learned during his stint in the desert, it's that all those pestering thoughts would do absolutely nothing to cure his bone-dry hitting. Instead, he relaxed Wednesday night, stepped in against Ervin Santana, and zen'd himself all the way to a two-run home run to leftfield. His seventh-inning shot provided insurance runs in the Mets' 4-1 win.
"I was just trying to do some damage there,'' he said. "I felt no pressure at all because we already had the lead . . . If I strike out right there, I strike out.''
The new approach is paying some pretty startling dividends. Since his return June 24, d'Arnaud has reached safely in all 13 games he's played, with hits in all but one of them. During this stretch, he's batted .300 with 10 RBIs, more than doubling his season total to 19. He's also hit three of his six home runs.
"His whole stay in Vegas zoomed his confidence up and it's still there,'' manager Terry Collins said. "He had a chance to clear his mind. There wasn't that condensed pressure that every night he has to get it done. He relaxed, got his swing back, came back up and continued to hit.''
Collins added he couldn't remember anyone else who had responded so quickly and so markedly to being sent down. Part of it might have to do with innate talent -- "I've got some great friends that I've had a long time in this game, and they all said this kid was going to hit and he was going to hit for power,'' Collins said -- but a lot of it also has to do with approach.
It's a sentiment d'Arnaud echoed after the game. Although some become debilitated by demotion, he chose to look at it as an opportunity.
"After it happened, I looked myself in the mirror and had a talk with myself and knew I had work to do,'' he said. "I truly believed that I had the talent, and that wasn't going to be it, me doubting myself.''
He had a long talk with the coaches there, he said, including manager Wally Backman, "and it relaxed me. I just went out there and played and had fun.''
What's more impressive, he's been able to translate that to the big-league level . . . even though his job was on the line less than a month ago . . . and even though they were playing the Braves . . . and even though he had a brutal start to his season.
"If I got out, I got out,'' he said, "if I hit a double, I hit a double. I was looking for something I could hit hard. If I would've lined out to somebody, I would have been just as happy as a home run.''
It turns out, that's exactly the type of thinking that leads to home runs and a reborn season.
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