Catcher Buck contributes four RBIs as Mets tie series with Marlins
NEW YORK -- John Buck arrived in Flushing amid little fanfare. When the Mets traded R.A. Dickey to Toronto last winter for a package of prospects, Buck found himself thrust into the deal largely because the Blue Jays wanted to shed his $6 million salary. There was no press conference for Buck. There were no back pages.
But Buck has quickly developed into an indispensable member of the Mets. His two-run double Saturday set the stage for Daniel Murphy's winning RBI triple in a 7-3 victory over the Marlins at Citi Field. His nine RBIs lead the National League. His work with the pitching staff has drawn rave reviews.
"What he's done behind the plate has been just awesome," said third baseman David Wright.
Buck has been in the middle of just about everything, as he was Saturday when the Mets trailed by a run in the sixth. With two men aboard, Buck ripped a double just inside the third-base bag to plate Wright and Ike Davis, both of whom had singled with one out.
An inning later, Murphy tripled over a drawn-in outfield to give the Mets the lead for good.
"I didn't want to carry the atrocious at-bats I had already had all day to that one," said Murphy, who noted that he changed his approach mid-at-bat when Mike Baxter, who was on first base, moved to third on a steal and an error. "I just wanted to do enough to get him in."
Had Murphy looked over his shoulder back to the dugout, Buck might have been able to dispense some advice. No Mets hitter has been better at driving in runs this season than Buck, who sandwiched his double between sacrifice flies in the first and seventh innings.
Had the catcher not been so successful, his former batterymate Ricky Nolasco might have had a better afternoon. As it was, the Marlins starter gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings.
"I knew coming into this arena, New York, that things would be heightened -- good, bad or indifferent," Buck said of his early success. "I kind of prepared myself to try to be numb to anything, and that's how I've approached it."
It is not as if Buck's offense has materialized out of thin air. Once a top prospect boasting 20-homer potential, Buck was one of the better-hitting catchers in baseball for a brief period several years ago. A poor 2012 season made him expendable to the Marlins, then to the Blue Jays, ultimately resulting in his move to New York.
The Mets received him with open arms, largely because they received so little offensive production last year from Josh Thole, their primary catcher. But they were well aware of Buck's reputation as a game-caller, which was significant; the Mets knew that if they were to compete with any consistency this season, they would need their pitching staff to shine.
Through five games, it has. With Buck behind the plate for every inning of every game, Mets starting pitchers have compiled a 1.41 ERA. Jon Niese actually increased that number Saturday against the Marlins, allowing one earned run and one unearned run over six somewhat frustrating innings.
Bloops, bleeders and infield hits conspired against Niese, as did two double-play attempts the Mets could not turn. One of them resulted in shortstop Ruben Tejada's fourth error in five games, a troubling trend on defense.
But Niese "felt great," in his own words, "and Buck called a great game."
"He never takes a pitch off," Niese said. "He reads hitters well. He reads their swings well. He can read their approach, and we always have a good plan going into the game."
Ever the center of attention these days, Buck was involved in a bizarre play in the seventh inning, when Greg Dobbs singled home Juan Pierre with the tying run. After crossing the plate, Pierre barreled into Buck as he ran up the line to field Mike Baxter's throw. Because Buck presumably had a play on Dobbs at second base, umpire Jim Joyce called inning-ending interference.
Buck, Mets manager Terry Collins and bench coach Bob Geren, a former catcher, all said they had never seen anything like it.
"I don't think it changed the momentum of the game," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond, another former backstop. "We weren't able to execute."
The Mets certainly were, in multiple phases of the game. Wright and Baxter both reached base safely three times and recorded key stolen bases, furthering Mets rallies. Davis rapped out two hits, including one to the opposite field. Tejada recovered from his early error to make a fine defensive play in the ninth, after Murphy came through with some well-executed situational hitting.
But the key for the Mets all day was Buck.
"He's a good baseball player," Collins said. "It's fun to listen to him in the dugout. If I was a young catcher, I'd be hanging around him. I'd be learning some things from him."