'757' friends Wright, Cuddyer take aim at postseason
Mets teammates with Virginia roots look to hold off Nationals in standings
NEW YORK -- Now that the impact of the wonderful and weepy Wilmer Flores episode has diminished and David Wright is back in harness, the most compelling storyline involving the Mets is told by the standings of the National League East and the team's remaining schedule.
For those who closely monitored the first months of this Mets season and saw too many Triple A and 4-A players participating, the prospects for the final month certainly test the imagination. The words "division leaders" don't roll off the tongue just yet. But with practice, we'll all be able to speak them before the Mets visit to D.C. on Monday with that label intact.
New York's push to the top is rife with compelling subplots, not the least of which involve their generous bullpen, the innings-limit madness that exacerbates the bullpen's problems and Lucas Duda's uncooperative back.
Less compelling but rather warm and fuzzy is the narrative involving Wright and Michael Cuddyer, prominent figures in the Mets' first-place standing and also participants in Project 757. The project is a unofficial and below-the-radar endeavor that seeks to earn recognition for the area code in southwest Virginia, where the two Mets, the Upton brothers, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Zimmerman served their baseball apprenticeships.
With the Mets almost within range of the division championship, Zimmerman's Nationals almost within range of the Mets and Reynolds' Cardinals carrying the best record in the game, the 757 code is all but assured several entries in the postseason in the National League. And that, Wright says, "would be neat." The understanding is that the situation will be many times neater for Wright and Cuddyer if the Mets retain their top-dog status.
"There's a real sense of pride that we've got a number of guys playing in the big leagues who are from the same area," Wright said Tuesday at Citi Field. "We're from this small part of Virginia. Sometimes we call it 'the 757.' It's not Texas or California or Florida. We're just a little area ... code. But we've got a pretty good representation."
And the representation of 757 in the NL postseason will be greater if the Mets are involved than it would be with the Nationals playing. Of course, other motivations of greater import exist as the Mets seek to play games of significance in October for the first time in nine years. Project 757 merely enhances the experience.
"It's gratifying, being here, playing with David and playing as well as we are," Cuddyer said. "It's something special because we've known each other for a while. It's nothing you plan -- I wish you could plan for it -- but it's happening now."
The possibility of the two playing together originated -- in Cuddyer's mind, at least -- just less than a year ago, after the Mets swept a three-game home series from his Rockies. Jon Niese, Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero were the Mets' starters in that series. They threw 20 innings, allowed one run and 19 baserunners and struck out 23. Cuddyer added his sense of Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey to what he had witnessed and concluded he would do well to move his career to Queens if possible.
An exchange of texts with Wright, some late-autumn interest expressed by the Mets, who needed right-handed hitting, a two-year contract for the former NL batting champion and the two 757 guys were united in New York.
"I wasn't asked about Michael until after [the Mets] had contacted his agent," Wright said. "But I endorsed him when I was. He was just what we needed."
Wright is four years younger than his buddy, an age difference that meant more when their phone number prefix was 757. "We knew of each other more than we knew each other." he said. "Michael pretty much put the 757 on the map. He was the first of us to make it. The scouts started showing up at our games because they'd come to see him and noticed we had some talent in our little area."
The 2015 scenario has been something less than it might have been for both players. Wright has missed most of the season because of his extended assignment to the disabled list, and Cuddyer wasn't producing as he and the Mets had anticipated until he too had spent time as a disabled player. They have been in the same starting lineup merely 13 times in the Mets' first 133 games.
Now that baseball is in its gun-lap month, the two are closing in on the objective that seduced Cuddyer last September. "I thought [then] that they would have the pieces," Cuddyer said.
At age 36, Cuddyer has a chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 2010, when he played with the Twins. He has experience in six Division Series and one League Championship Series. And what experience: He had produced a .338 batting average in 78 postseason plate appearances.
Wright, approaching his 33rd birthday, participated in the NLDS and NLCS in 2006. He batted .216 in 42 plate appearances in October that year.
Neither has made major contributions to this point. Cuddyer has produced at a higher level since his playing time has been reduced. Since his return, he has a .327 average, four doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs in 19 games (60 plate appearances). Wright is batting .328 in 74 plate appearances for the year, but has driven in merely five runs. Still, the presence of each can be quite valuable to a team with a modest September/October resume.
Cuddyer has come to recognize Wright's influence on the younger Mets. He witnessed it is Spring Training when the team captain addressed the tempest in a teaspoon that was Noah Syndergaard leaving the dugout during an intrasquad game. But subsequently, Cuddyer was impressed by "how they gravitated to David when he visited the clubhouse while he was disabled."
"The respect he commands is pretty cool." Cuddyer said. "I never had seen him in that light, as the captain. He takes that responsibility seriously. ... The guys flood to him, there's more life when he's around. Having him back has made a difference."
And now the Mets are in the month that will make the greatest difference. Before the season ends, they will play the Nationals six times. The first three games are Monday-Wednesday of next week in Washington, which, Wright noted, isn't particularly far from area code 757. Home games?