NEW YORK -- The curious set of circumstances that brought Rajai Davis to the plate in the eighth inning on Saturday would have been difficult to predict a half-hour earlier. The levers began moving in the seventh inning, when Jacob deGrom -- normally intent on pitching as deep into every game as possible -- told manager Mickey Callaway he was feeling somewhat fatigued.
As a result, Callaway turned to Seth Lugo, figuring he could squeeze two innings out of his closer. But Callaway did not double-switch Lugo as far ahead on the lineup card as possible, preferring to keep Wilson Ramos’ bat in the game. Instead, he removed J.D. Davis, meaning Lugo’s spot would come up if the Mets sent six men to the plate in the bottom of the eighth.
When they did (because of course they did), Callaway had no choice but to remove Lugo from the game. His final decision was to eschew Michael Conforto, a superior hitter with dramatic platoon splits, in favor of Rajai Davis, a veteran outfielder the Mets designated for assignment at one point earlier this season.
Davis ripped a bases-clearing double to left to lead the Mets to a 3-0 win over the Dodgers (because of course he did), maintaining the Mets’ National League Wild Card spark for yet another day. The win kept the Mets within three games of the Cubs, who also won, and who remain in control of the NL’s second Wild Card spot.
“Sometimes, a hitter does something special,” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. “Right there, Rajai did something special.”
What was billed as a pitchers’ duel between National League Cy Young Award candidates Jacob deGrom and Hyun-Jin Ryu proved exactly that for seven innings. deGrom allowed three hits and struck out eight. Ryu gave up two hits and fanned six. Neither pitcher walked a batter.
But when deGrom entered the dugout after the seventh, he was forthcoming about his condition despite throwing only 101 pitches.
“I said, ‘I’m wearing down a little bit,’” said deGrom. “Usually, I’m ready to go. I noticed that I was starting to get tired even in [the seventh]. I was leaving some pitches up. The two hits I gave up in that inning, I didn’t really finish them. I noticed my arm was dragging a little bit. So when they asked, I was honest with them.”
So began the chain reaction that ended with Davis facing Julio Urias with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth.
Since returning to the Mets as a September callup, Davis had accomplished little of note. In four of the seven games he appeared before Saturday, he did not log a plate appearance. Davis offered the Mets veteran depth as a pinch-running option or defensive replacement, but little more.
Still, it was only four months ago that Davis, on the day of his first arrival in New York, took a $243 Uber from Allentown, Pa., to Citi Field and hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in a win over the Nationals. And it was less than three years ago that Davis produced the most significant hit of his life -- a tying home run for the Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Ample evidence exists that he has a knack for these sorts of things.
“Almost every time we’ve used him to pinch-hit this year, he’s hit the ball hard somewhere,” Callaway said. “Big situations I don’t think bother him, either.”
Every situation is big now for the Mets, who must play near-perfect baseball if they are to come from behind to earn a Wild Card berth. Davis reaching out over the plate and lifting Urias’ changeup into left field was no different.
“It’s huge,” Davis said, laughing. “It means maybe I can get more opportunities. I’m just happy that I can help us win today.”