NEW YORK -- As the later innings rolled past, Dominic Smith became nervous that he might not have a chance to enter the Mets’ final game. Smith, who spent the better part of two months working back into game shape after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot, wanted only a moment or two on the field. He would have been happy simply to play defense.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway wanted Smith on the diamond as well, drawing up plans to double-switch him in after the first batter of the ninth inning. But that batter, Adeiny Hechavarria, hit a game-tying home run to shift Callaway’s priorities. Visions of Pete Alonso adding one last walk-off to his historic season began dancing through the manager’s head.
So Callaway, in what might have been his final game as manager, gambled. He stuck with Alonso for two more innings, well aware that the season could expire without Smith’s wish coming true. Finally, in the top of the 11th, Callaway caved. He removed Alonso and inserted Smith at first base, where the two friends and teammates embraced on the field. Then he watched, half an inning later, as Smith hit a walk-off three-run homer to send the Mets to a 7-6 win over the Braves at Citi Field.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of anything like this,” Smith said. “If I had gone up there and gotten out, I still would have been just as happy, just as satisfied to make it back into a game. … I don’t even know what to say, how to think. I can’t even wrap my head around everything right now.”
In his first game since July 26, in a season that seemed destined to continue deep into the evening, Smith came to the plate with two men on base and two outs in the 11th. He took a ball, then lunged at a 91 mph fastball over the heart of the plate, powering it into the Braves’ bullpen.
“It worked out really well,” Callaway said, grinning.
So ended a season that was as difficult for the Mets as it was complicated for Smith. Entering Spring Training purportedly in a first-base competition with Alonso, Smith understood that he was unlikely to win that battle. He lobbied the Mets to let him work out in left field, but when they told him no, Smith was left without a starting job. He made the team as a bench bat and thrived in that role, then -- despite his lack of experience at the position -- became the Mets’ regular left fielder for a brief spell in June and July. A stress fracture to his foot ended that run.
Team doctors told Smith he would not play again this season, but Smith lobbied them to let him try. In the interim, he became a vocal leader in the clubhouse, riding around Citi Field on a customized knee scooter and asking general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to let him travel with the team on the road. By the final week of September, Smith was healthy enough to play, but the Mets weren’t going to start him at first base with Alonso chasing the Major League rookie home run record.
So Smith waited, and waited, and waited, finally receiving his chance in the 11th inning of Game 162.
“He’s one of those guys, the heart and soul of this team,” teammate J.D. Davis said. “To see him work at it and just be a spotlight for us in the clubhouse and come through in that kind of situation, I’m speechless. It’s special.”
The future will bring only more uncertainty for Smith, who remains blocked at first base by Alonso and in left field by multiple players. Smith has said he intends to work with a track coach this offseason to improve his versatility, with an eye toward playing all three outfield positions next year. A more realistic path could have him traded this offseason. Or, if Smith returns, he may be locked into a bench role.
The Mets like to say those sorts of problems work themselves out, as they did Sunday for Smith, allowing the whole lot of them to scatter to their offseason homes happy.
“I was satisfied with getting one at-bat,” Smith said. “For my team to put me in a position to help us win, I’m still just at a loss for words.”