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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Give Keith . . . no last name needed . . . credit for helping Lucas Duda

Former Mets star and current SNY analyst Keith

Former Mets star and current SNY analyst Keith Hernandez attends Keith Hernandez's 'Stache Shave For Charity at Citi Field on Sept. 27, 2012. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ben Gabbe

When Mex talks, people listen.

Mets manager Terry Collins revealed after Thursday's 5-0 victory over the Cardinals -- a victory powered by Lucas Duda's two home runs and four RBIs against lefthanders -- that Duda's drastically improved prowess vs. southpaws was helped along by a spring training chat with Mets legend Keith Hernandez.

And, you know, by hitting coach Kevin Long and, mostly Duda himself. But we can't resist a good Keith Hernandez story. After all, the guy was on "Seinfeld.''

"I'll give most of the credit to Lucas Duda," Collins said. "He is the one who has said, 'I can hit lefties. I always have hit lefties.' ''

At that point, Collins seemed to hesitate a bit, as if having an inner dialogue about whether he should mention someone else. Someone who Collins knew would generate headlines if he told the tale.

Aw, the heck with it.

"I'll tell you what," Collins said. "I might give . . . I'm going to give Keith some credit."

Collins, by the way, did not say a last name. He didn't have to. Who else would he mean? After all, the guy probably hasn't had to pay for his own drink in New York since 1986.

"There was a day before spring training," he said, "that he met with Keith about an approach against lefthanded pitching because Keith hit lefthanders. I think it helped. I don't think there's any question it helped."

Did it? Duda is a quiet and unfailingly polite person who probably nodded a lot when Hernandez talked on that February day in Port St. Lucie.

On Thursday, as reporters probed Duda for insights on his special talk with Hernandez, all he could come up with was: "Essentially he said, 'Stay short. Take what they give you.' ''

But didn't talking with Hernandez help? After all, the guy has a mustache that is celebrated so much, it has its own Twitter account.

"Sure, sure," Duda said.

Well, if Duda wasn't going to open up, there was Hernandez himself, standing clear across the clubhouse, with a plastic cup of beer in his hand.

"I just told him, basically, my experiences against lefthanders over 17 years, what lefthanders are trying to do, what they like to do," he said after calling the game on SNY. "So it was nothing to do with any alterations of swing or changing anything mechanically. It was all just how I approached lefthanders."

He hit .291 against lefthanders and .299 against righthanders.

In 2014, Duda hit .180 against lefties and looked so overmatched that the original plan for 2015 was to play Michael Cuddyer at first against them.

But Duda worked at it and impressed Collins enough early that Curtis Granderson is the one who sits now. In 2015, Duda is 18-for-44 (.409) against lefthanders. He has hit four of his five home runs against them.

On Thursday, Duda hit a 435-foot solo homer to right-center off Jaime Garcia in the sixth and a 427-foot three-run shot to the same area off Randy Choate in the eighth. That put a capper on a much-needed win after the Mets were cuffed around by the Cards the previous two nights.

Both home runs came on first pitches. Taking too many first-pitch fastballs -- Duda in particular -- used to drive Hernandez crazy in the booth, and he wasn't shy about saying so.

In fact, Hernandez's critiques of the approach by Mets hitters last season led to general manager Sandy Alderson having a private chat with him to explain his hitting philosophy and get Mex on board.

Good move by Alderson. After all, the guy is Keith Hernandez. The guy who helped Lucas Duda.

New York Sports