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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Old pal Travis d'Arnaud becoming latest Met-killer

Atlanta's Travis d'Arnaud, right, hits a double against

Atlanta's Travis d'Arnaud, right, hits a double against the Mets during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. Credit: AP/Noah K. Murray

The tire fire burning Sunday over in chop-show row, producing black clouds that rose high above the Home Run Apple, made for an easy metaphor to this Mets’ season going up in smoke.

But for a deeper dive into the Mets’ dysfunction, look no further than old friend/new nemesis Travis d’Arnaud, who once again tormented his former team, this time with a two-run double Sunday that helped break open Atlanta’s eventual 7-0 rout at Citi Field.

On the Met-killer scale, if Chipper Jones is a 10, and Daniel Murphy an 8, we’ll put d’Arnaud somewhere around 5 and climbing, thanks to raking them at a .458 clip (11-for-24) with two doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in only six games this season. With his chill Cali demeanor, d’Arnaud doesn’t come off as a guy bent on revenge, despite his humiliating release by the Mets in May of 2019. But the numbers say otherwise, and now that he’s heading back to the playoffs for the second time in two years — while his Flushing pals again are likely to be home — I asked d’Arnaud how he felt about the new Met-killer label.

"You know, it’s nice to be able to contribute to a win," d’Arnaud said. "I think that’s more important to me than anything."

OK, so maybe his postgame jabs need a little polishing up. And since d’Arnaud signed a two-year, $16 million contract with Atlanta last winter, he’ll have plenty more opportunities to do so. Unlike Chipper, and kind of similar to Murph, d’Arnaud has a bitter exit to use as motivation, considering that Brodie Van Wagenen — then a rookie general manager — chose to dump him when his performance lagged coming off Tommy John surgery.

Giving d’Arnaud only a month to return to form — after tendering him a one-year, $3.52 million contract over the winter — was ham-fisted roster management from the get-go. So the Mets picked up the tab for him to first excel with the Rays for the remainder of that season, and now have to deal with him in the NL East.

Last year, d’Arnaud became the only catcher to ever hit three home runs in one game against the Yankees and finished with 16 overall to go with a .782 OPS in 92 games. Occasionally, he batted leadoff for Tampa Bay. This season, d’Arnaud is hitting .338 with nine homers, 33 RBIs and a .968 OPS, mostly from the middle of the lineup — he was in the cleanup spot Sunday.

Oh, and the Mets? Catcher just happens to be their biggest deficiency. Funny how that worked out.

"You wish he was on your team, you know?" Brandon Nimmo said. "So you didn’t have to play him. I don’t know. He’s a great player, he’s a good catcher. Just all-around good."

On Sunday, Atlanta was clinging to a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning with two on and two out when d’Arnaud stepped to the plate against Jeurys Familia. The first pitch was a 98-mph sinker, yet somehow d’Arnaud smoked it into rightfield for a two-run double. D’Arnaud described it as "lucky," but he knows Familia as well as anyone (122 innings together) and that intel definitely didn’t hurt.

On the receiving end, Atlanta couldn’t be happier. Starter Kyle Wright entered Sunday with a 7.20 ERA, and with d’Arnaud piloting him through the Mets’ order, he turned in a career day: one hit over 6 1/3 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. Of course he credited d’Arnaud with a big assist.

"Yeah, he’s awesome," Wright said. "He called a great game. Pretty much every pitch he called I wanted to throw. I think that just kind of seeing how cool, calm and collected he is kind of calms me down, too. He’s been unbelievable all year."

Added Nimmo, "I think Trav called a good game back there. Obviously he knows quite a few of us pretty well, and we know that he does his homework when he’s going behind the plate."

Awesome, unbelievable. Who knew? Not the Mets, and particularly Van Wagenen, who being new on the scene didn’t have any built-up loyalty to d’Arnaud before cutting him loose. But Atlanta manager Brian Snitker always liked his brother, Chase, and figured Travis would be more of the same.

Now d’Arnaud’s $8 million salary is shaping up to be a bargain for Atlanta. Haunting the Mets is just a bonus.

"He’s dangerous, and he is a laid-back guy," Snitker said. "He’s a great kid. He’s fit right in here from Day 1. You like playing that former-team card because he’s pretty good at it. I can see it."

And the Mets are going to keep seeing it. Too close for comfort, for at least another season. Except for October, when they’ll probably be watching him on TV, after d’Arnaud helped send the Mets home.

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