The Mets were the reigning National League champions when they drafted David Wright. He was 18 years old, and he soon became the foundation of a franchise that was in for a wild ride.
Wright starred for a playoff team at age 23. He staggered through September collapses. He shifted with the rest of the Mets to Citi Field, a park at first ill-suited for his swing. He stayed as the Mets weathered the scrambling of their finances and six losing seasons in a row.
The payoff for all of it came Friday, with a chance to dig into the batter’s box on a wind-whipped October night, surrounded by 44,781 believers in blue and orange. With his team trailing the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, and already down by a run in Game 3, Wright lined a two-run homer over the left-field fence.
“This is what you dream about as a kid,” Wright said, after the Mets had completed their 9-3 victory. “You think about playing in the World Series, and on top of that, being able to contribute with a few R.B.I.s and a home run. Running around the bases, it’s just like floating.”
These are not the Yankees of Derek Jeter, who got so many chances to strut on the October stage. These are the Mets, and this was their first home World Series game in 15 years. Now this captain had done something the other captain might have done, something indelible and clutch. He had risen to meet the moment.
“We were just all jumping up and down — pumped, happy for him, happy for us,” said Michael Cuddyer, the reserve outfielder. “It was a really cool sight, because you know that the fans — he’s one of them. You know that, and you can see that and you can feel that. I think we were able to feed off that energy it gave the fans.”
Wright’s homer was hardly decisive; the Mets’ lead did not last even an inning. The Royals took their lead back from Noah Syndergaard, who had unnerved them when his first-pitch fastball to Alcides Escobar sailed to the backstop.
The Royals talked tough after the game, but they had all night to retaliate and never did. If they had wanted to target the Mets’ soul — and send Citi Field into raucous delirium — they would have thrown at Wright.
Wright is the Mets’ leader, by what he says and what he does. He admonished Syndergaard in spring training when he noticed Syndergaard eating in the clubhouse instead of watching the game with his teammates. When Matt Harvey was late to a postseason workout, Wright made his displeasure clear.
And when teammates arrive at the ballpark, they know Wright is already there. He missed more than four months recovering from spinal stenosis, and preparing to play takes time. On Friday, Manager Terry Collins said, Wright got to the ballpark at 11:45 a.m. for the 8 p.m. game.
“He’s here two hours before all of us, for sure, every day,” Cuddyer said. “He’s still got his whole rehab routine that he’s got to do. On Sunday, we flew into Kansas City and went straight to the ballpark. We were already through like three rounds of B.P. before he was able to even come out on the field, because he still had to do all of his stuff.”
Collins said Wright had not complained to him once, so he assumes Wright is in no pain. But with a .171 postseason average before Friday — and a critical 14th-inning error in Game 1 on Tuesday — he needed to contribute more. The home run was his first in October.
“David has been struggling; he never makes an excuse,” Collins said. “He’s got to swing better. He knows that. Big hit for him, big hit for us.”
Wright said the previous playoff games had helped suppress any nerves he might have had before facing the hard-throwing Yordano Ventura in the first inning. He said he had concentrated on his timing, knowing that he had been late on fastballs for much of October. Getting his foot down early would be vital.
“Sometimes you think you’re on time, and you look at film and you’re really not,” Wright said. “So it’s a constant struggle for me to make sure that I’m on time, and even a little early, as opposed to getting my foot down a little later and having to rush through everything.”
He delivered with the flair we saw in Philadelphia in August, when Wright returned from the disabled list and launched a second-deck homer in his first at-bat. But these are the Royals, not the last-place Phillies, and another victory would have all but sealed this World Series for Kansas City. Now it crackles again with possibility.
Wright put Game 3 out of reach in the sixth inning. With the Mets ahead by three runs, the Royals called for their All-Star setup man, Kelvin Herrera, with the bases loaded in the sixth. Wright had hit a 96-mile-an-hour fastball from Ventura for his home run and smacked Herrera’s first pitch — a fastball at 97 m.p.h. — into center for a two-run single.
It gave the Mets a five-run lead and gave Wright four R.B.I., one shy of Rusty Staub’s club record for a World Series game.
“This is amazing, how hard those guys throw,” Wright said later, by his locker long after the game. “You can tell why they’re here.”
The victory meant, at the very least, that this World Series would not be an emphatic coronation of the Royals. There is hope for the Mets, depending on which precedent you pick. In 1986, the Mets lost the first two games of the World Series, won Game 3 by six runs in Boston — and went on to win the title. In 2000, the Mets lost the first two games, won Game 3 at home — but never won again.
Wright may not know the specifics, but he is much more aware than most players of Mets history, having grown up near their Class AAA affiliate in Virginia. After the Mets clinched the pennant in Chicago, Wright spoke excitedly of joining the ranks of the other World Series teams in franchise history: the Miracle Mets of 1969, the Ya Gotta Believe gang of 1973, the champions of 1986 and the pennant-winners of 2000.
“You’re talking about a select group of New York Mets teams that this team will now be mentioned with,” he said. “I can’t tell you how excited I am for that, how proud I am of that. To be able to be a part of this group and the history that this team is making — incredible.”
This game, for now, is Wright’s finest moment. It ensured that his group, the David Wright Mets, would have a fighting shot at a championship.