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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Wilmer Flores' fans turning into Ovation Nation

Mets first-base coach Tom Goodwin congratulates Mets shortstop

Mets first-base coach Tom Goodwin congratulates Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores on his RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning in a game against the Washington Nationals on Friday, July 31, 2015 at Citi Field. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Walking through a turnstile at Citi Field this past week was like finding a Golden Ticket in a Wonka bar. Once you get through those gates, there's no telling what you might find on the other side.

And that goes for the Mets' players, too.

Take Wilmer Flores. If not for some suspicious-looking video of Carlos Gomez's hip, Flores would have been wearing a Brewers uniform Friday instead of playing second base for the Mets in a crucial game against the Nationals.

In 99 percent of those trade scenarios, Flores is a goner, and the lasting image of him would be his sobbing face on the back pages of all three New York tabloids. Instead, something amazing happened.

Flores remained, thanks to the scuttled Gomez trade, and now has been embraced by the Mets fandom like a little brother. But Flores is no sympathy case. He earned all three of his standing ovations Friday night, then turned Panic City into Party City with a walk-off home run into the leftfield deck that gave the Mets a 2-1 win over the Nationals in 12 innings.

"Unbelievable," Flores said.

That word gets thrown around a lot. But Flores' night -- heck, his past 48 hours -- was straight from the Merriam-Webster definition.

Two days earlier, the 23-year-old Flores was crying on the field, distraught about the idea of being shipped to Milwaukee after spending his entire pro career, from age 16, with the Mets.

But when Flores returned to the lineup Friday night, he was cheered from the moment his name was introduced. The first standing ovation came on a diving defensive play in the first inning. The next was for his first at-bat. The one after that was for his RBI single that put the Mets up 1-0 in the fourth inning.

"Because the kid showed that players are human beings," Terry Collins said, "these people, he's got them now."

This relationship is no one-way street, however. After all that adoration, Flores stepped to the plate in the 12th inning and hit the third pitch for the game-winner.

Up popped the apple, and the giant video board beamed "GO WITH THE FLO."

As Flores circled the bases, the rest of us, including those streaming from the Mets' dugout, tried to process what was happening.

"That's one of the best walk-off homers I've ever seen," Michael Cuddyer said. "I'm sure every emotion a human being could have, he had."

And then some. Flores trumped the imagination Friday night with a comeback story that nobody could have penned. The Mets had ticketed him for Miller Park. And here he was, two days later, tears of joy streaming down his face while being mobbed by his teammates.

"Sitting here, I'm looking at some guys who are outstanding writers," Collins said during his postgame news conference. "You can't write that. You guys couldn't come up with that. That's unbelievable.

"Can it happen at a better time to a better person and in a bigger situation than that? We're all so thrilled for him."

Thanks for the plug, Terry (we're sure you're talking about us). But let's stay on point here. Collins said he wanted Flores "to get back down to Earth a little bit" by sitting out Thursday's game and then hoped he would be back to normal -- or as close as possible -- for Friday night's duel with Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez.

But there was one complication. The non-waiver trade deadline wasn't until 4 p.m. And no matter what anyone might have told Flores, there's no way he could have felt completely safe before 4:01.

They didn't tell him last time -- and even started him in Wednesday night's game despite having a deal with the Brewers in place. That's what caused the regrettable reality show in the first place.

As soon as that night was over, however, Flores did a remarkable job of moving on. Just as he had earlier this season after a critical error at shortstop, he tried to shrug it off and start fresh.

"There was a lot going on," Flores said. "But that's in the past. That's out of my mind."

Plenty of players say such things. Few can really convince themselves of it. But Flores honestly believes what he's saying. And he proved it again Friday night by doing the unbelievable.

"It does speak a lot about his character," Collins said. "This kid can't ever forget this night."

Neither will anyone else who witnessed it.


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