Wilmer Flores tossed his helmet into the infield grass, pounded his chest twice and jumped on home plate. A horde of cheering Mets awaited and promptly showered Flores with Gatorade.
How much can change in two days.
Flores, who on Wednesday cried on the field because he thought he had been traded during the Mets’ game against the Padres, hit his first career walk-off home run to help the Mets beat the Washington Nationals, 2-1, in 12 innings Friday night at Citi Field. Flores, who received two standing ovations even before the home run, drove in both of the Mets’ runs.
“Unbelievable,” Flores said of the home run.
Flores’s home run and the win were critical, as the Mets now trail the Nationals by two games in the National League East.
“Especially after yesterday, it even got bigger,” Manager Terry Collins said of the series, referring to the Mets’ dispiriting 8-7 loss to the Padres on Thursday. “We’ve got to make up some ground here so we can stay in the hunt.”
Before the game, rap music thumped loudly from Curtis Granderson’s locker as Granderson sat in a chair and seemed very happy. It was, he said, “a feel-good Friday.”
The Mets had reasons to be happy.
Their ace, Matt Harvey, was set to take the mound. Their promising rookie catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, was activated from the disabled list and scheduled to start for the first time since June 20. Their captain and leader, David Wright, said he could play in a minor league game next week as he continued to rehabilitate from spinal stenosis.
Then, at 3:27 p.m., a phone rang inside the clubhouse. “Uh-oh,” Granderson said. “We’ve got a trade!” Baseball’s nonwaiver trade deadline was Friday at 4 p.m., and Granderson was joking that the Mets were making a last-minute move in plain view of reporters in the clubhouse.
Granderson’s quip turned out to be prophetic. At 3:47 p.m., the Mets completed a trade for Tigers outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a 29-year-old power hitter who could help ignite the Mets’ offense, one of the poorest in baseball.
“To have somebody walk in the clubhouse who’s a legitimate run-producing, big-time name, I think it’s going to create a lot of energy in our clubhouse,” Collins said. “All of a sudden, boy, you’re looking around the clubhouse and you see some nice offensive pieces that are there. I haven’t been through it with somebody of this magnitude or this kind of bat that’s joining the club.”
One Mets fan taped Cespedes’s name and number, written in blue marker, onto a No. 5 Wright jersey. Another fan walking around Citi Field shouted, “A Cespedes for the rest of us,” a nod to the comedian (and ardent Mets fan) Jerry Seinfeld’s post on Twitter after the Mets had completed the deal.
The Mets followed up with Friday’s critical win.
The Mets are 4-6 against the Nationals this season, and Washington is now 27-7 at Citi Field over the past four seasons.
So when Harvey retired the first three batters, it was a promising start. The second batter, Yunel Escobar, hit a sharp ground ball to second base, and Flores dove to his left and threw to first for the out. The crowd exploded and gave him a standing ovation.
“I think the Mets fans were really rallying around Wilmer and our team,” Harvey said.
In the fourth inning, the cheers were even louder. Flores hit a two-out, run-scoring single, and the Mets were up, 1-0. They could have added to that lead, but Eric Campbell struck out looking with a full count and the bases loaded to end the inning, flipping his bat in frustration.
Harvey, meanwhile, kept cruising. He carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and gave up one run and five hits with nine strikeouts in seven and two-thirds innings. He was helped by the defense, too: Flores’s play in the first, Juan Uribe’s leaping snare of a line drive in the third, Granderson’s sliding grab in the fourth and Juan Lagares’s running catch to end the seventh.
After Harvey — who entering Friday was 3-2 with a 1.34 earned run average in seven starts against the Nationals — induced Ian Desmond into a groundout to end the fifth inning, he marched off the mound with a stern expression that gave the impression he understood the magnitude of the series.
The Nationals tied the game in the eighth on a run-scoring single by Escobar, but then Flores gave the Mets their emphatic victory with his 11th home run of the season.
“That’s one of the best walk-off homers I’ve ever seen,” the Mets’ Michael Cuddyer said.