PHILADELPHIA — Imagine if David Wright’s leadership powers worked this way all the time. With his first swing Monday after coming off the disabled list, Wright launched a home run into the second deck of Citizens Bank Park. His teammates followed his example to absurd lengths: They set single-game Mets records for homers and extra-base hits in a 16-7 thrashing of the Philadelphia Phillies.
“You watch it on TV, and now to be a part of it, you understand,” Wright said. “This team seems to be on a mission.”
This is the vision Wright embraced three years ago, when he committed his career to the Mets through 2020: dominant pitching, a better lineup and a chance to play in October. Even on Monday, when Jacob deGrom had his worst career start, the Mets responded by doing what the best teams do. They pounded on the weak.
After gorging on Colorado pitching over the weekend, the Mets clubbed eight homers and 14 extra-base hits off the Phillies. Wright was like a father returning from a long business trip to find that his baby, who was crawling when he left, was suddenly sprinting around the backyard.
“We’ve got one of the best pitchers in baseball pitching for us; he doesn’t have his best night, and we just know that we’re going to win the game,” Wright said. “That’s the type of confidence you can’t tell somebody to have. You can’t force it upon somebody. You just have to get good at winning. It seems like this team is getting good at winning.”
Wright went on the disabled list April 15 with a hamstring strain. Bothered by lower-back pain in May, he was found to have spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal. In June, Manager Terry Collins said, he thought Wright would be lost for the season.
“At the time, we had a lot of games left,” Collins said. “To have to make an announcement at some time in June and say this guy’s going to be out for the year, that would have been hard. That would have been a tough, tough strain.”
Collins doubted, but Wright’s medical team did not. He applied himself to the drudgery of rehabilitation work, in California and Florida, watching the Mets’ charmed season from afar. He used words like frustrated, angry and upset to describe his various mental states.
But Wright, 32, ground through his recovery, and a conversation in Los Angeles with Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ manager, who played with back pain for years, helped him. Injuries shortened Mattingly’s prime, but he remained a star fielder and a dependable hitter for the Yankees until retiring for family reasons at 34.
“It was very calming and influential to have a guy like that, who had the success that he had with the same condition, discussing his routine and having some advice for me,” Wright said. “It was beneficial in the recovery, probably more mentally than physically.”
Wright was only 23 when the Mets last made the playoffs, in 2006. With the Phillies’ trade of Chase Utley to the Dodgers last week, Wright became the longest-tenured major leaguer to play all of his career games with one team — 1,517 through Monday.
He is the forever Met, the franchise leader in almost every hitting category: hits, runs, total bases, runs batted in, walks, strikeouts, offensive wins above replacement. He is by far the best Met to have never appeared in the World Series. Now the Mets have their most realistic chance in almost a decade, and the possibility of Wright’s being inactive for it was cruel.
The question now is how much he can offer. The opening setting could hardly have been better: Wright has 20 homers at Citizens Bank Park, the most of any visitor, and Mets fans invaded the stands, cheering his every move before the game.
“I almost pulled a Wilmer Flores out there,” Wright said, a cheeky allusion to the Mets shortstop, who cried on the field last month when he thought he had been traded. “You’ve got to keep your emotions in check. You’re proud you got back to this point; you’re happy; you’re satisfied. But at the same time, you realize we’re in the middle of a pennant race.”
The Mets have a deeper roster now, with Juan Uribe as a viable veteran option at third. Wright was 2 for 5 with three runs scored on Monday, but he also made two errors. Collins has spoken to him about the need to be honest about his health, and Wright pledged to be better about that.
Wright had played all of his rehabilitation games in Class A, and Collins had predicted that the speed of the major league game would be very different. When he asked Wright late Monday if he wanted to be taken out early, Wright joked that Collins might want to use a defensive replacement.
Wright has been in a playful mood since arriving at the team hotel Sunday, before the rest of the team. He had packed his road uniform, and remembered a store nearby that sold cookies. He bought a platter for his teammates and greeted them at the elevator, in full uniform, when they checked in.
“Just boredom,” said Wright, who knows the exciting part starts now. The Mets have built a five-and-a-half-game lead in the National League East, meaning Wright does not have to be their savior.
Yet they are eager to see what else he can add, because a clinching celebration is still a long way off.
“Who knows?” General Manager Sandy Alderson said, smiling. “He may save us.”