Ending the 0-for-20 slump with a fourth-inning double was a relief. The 433-foot moonshot of a homer in the fifth was awesome.
But that handshake? Of all of Dominic Smith’s impressive contributions in the Mets’ 5-2 victory over the Cubs on Monday night, the team-up celebration with Pete Alonso may have been among the night’s most entertaining moments.
After Smith’s post-homer trot, he stopped at the on-deck circle, where the two started with a forearm bump. That soon evolved into Alonso taking a knee and cranking up an old-style movie camera, then pretending to take snapshots of Smith, who struck an arms-flexing pose.
"This league is about trying to show your emotions and trying to let the kids play, as MLB would say," Smith said. "We’re just trying to join in with the fun and flex our muscles. That was a big bomb and that’s a part of our handshake. I do the same thing when he goes deep.
"We try to have fun with it as much as we can. Obviously keep it professional. We’re not trying to show up anybody but just show our personality."
These are two Mets who clearly enjoy themselves on the field, and Smith had more fun Monday night than just about everyone not named David Peterson. Despite Smith’s recent skid, manager Luis Rojas moved him into the No. 3 spot against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, and both were rewarded with instant offense — as well as the improvised photo op from Alonso.
"One day he just surprised me and dropped down to a knee and starting taking pictures," Smith said. "We can do anything, but we’ve just been going with a flex lately. We might switch it up. I might do a different pose. He’s pretty creative."
Rojas spoke before the game about the potential for a breakout game by Smith, citing the trust factor. But a quick glance at the stat sheet suggested that Arrieta was the perfect antidote for whatever was ailing Smith, who was a career .438 hitter (7-for-16) against him with two doubles and a homer.
That favorable trend stayed true to form when Smith drew a walk in the first inning and jumped on a first-pitch curveball for a one-out double to set up James McCann’s RBI single in the fourth. Arrieta tried to get a 1-and-1 sinker past Smith in the fifth, but that wound up crash-landing in the blacked-out hitter’s eye in center to give the Mets a 4-0 lead.
With those two hits, Smith padded his club lead with 47. He’s played 55 games, second only to Francisco Lindor.
On a roster decimated by injuries, Smith has been one of its very few iron men and a reliable presence in leftfield, which he started playing regularly only two years ago.
In other words, Smith has been a model of consistency for a Mets team relentlessly searching for it this year — aside from his little dip during the past week.
On the nine-game road trip earlier this month, Smith batted .310 (9-for-29) with a 1.003 OPS and snapped a homerless streak of 138 at-bats when he went deep June 1 in Arizona.
But Citi Field hasn’t felt too welcoming for Smith, who slipped to .205 at home after going hitless in three games against the Padres. Still, Rojas and his front-office collaborators believed that sandwiching him between Lindor and Alonso on Monday night could be the perfect formula for sparking Smith. They were right.
"I don’t want to say it’s a relief," Smith said. "This year is going to be a long year. I’m going to deal with a lot of failure. And I think it’s just the combination of figuring out my body and how to just work through certain things. We’re in a long stretch. Some days you’re tired. Over the weekend, I didn’t feel like I had my legs under me and I was too wide in the box. So just tweaking little things, like tonight I was a little bit more narrow, I was able to control my movement forward and I think that was the reason why I was able to be patient.
"Baseball’s tough. You got to make adjustments every day, and the good players can make them a little faster than others. I’m just trying to get on that page."
Rojas takes plenty of criticism for his head-scratching bullpen maneuvers at times, but he nailed it with his pregame prediction of a Smith breakout game. As for the Smith-Alonso flex, we’re not sure even they know what’s coming next.