PHILADELPHIA -- The Mets piled out of their team bus late Sunday night and rode an elevator up to the lobby of their hotel, exhausted from their day game in Colorado and flight across the country. Then the elevator door opened and there was David Wright, grinning in full uniform with a tray of cookies he purchased from a nearby bakery.
With that, the barrier that had separated the Mets from their captain since April came tumbling to the ground. The Mets laughed and snapped photos and ate cookies together, and by the time they all arrived at the ballpark on Monday for Wright's first big league game in over four months, it seemed like just another game.
Until, that is, Wright found a way to make it remarkable. The Mets' captain launched a second-deck home run in his first plate appearance at Citizens Bank Park, en route to a record-shattering 16-7 win over the Phillies. It came on a night where the Phillies and Mets tied a National League record with a combined 11 home runs.
"When you're thinking about coming back, and I had a lot of time to think about it, you're thinking about your first at-bat and what it's going to feel like and trying to keep your emotions in check," Wright said. "It couldn't have been any better for me."
Wright took a called strike and then a curveball for a ball, before crushing an Adam Morgan fastball with his first swing of the game for the first of New York's record-setting eight homers.
"I was thinking, 'It's got to be easy, huh?" said teammate Wilmer Flores, whose two home runs and five RBIs overshadowed Wright's blast on the stat sheet, if not the highlight reel.
Manager Terry Collins admitted that when he wrote out his lineup card for Monday's series opener, he slotted Wright cleanup more out of respect to his stature than a realistic expectation of how he would perform. The truth is, the Mets didn't know how Wright would fare coming back from spinal stenosis, a career-threatening narrowing of the spinal column that, at one point, had Collins convinced his third baseman would not play again this year.
In that sense, just by taking the field Monday -- a few dozen Mets fans behind the Citizens Bank Park dugout cheered him robustly between batting practice rounds -- Wright overcame a series of odds stacked against him. Then his homer silenced a legion of doubters who fretted over Wright's lack of extra-base-hit power during an eight-game Minor League rehab stint.
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"I just think everybody was elated," said Wright's teammate and longtime friend Michael Cuddyer, who debated organizing a silent treatment in the dugout before settling on a standard round of high fives. "Everybody was cheering. Everybody was happy."
Going forward, obstacles do remain. The Mets must keep Wright healthy, at least in part by benching him regularly. (Day games after night games, for example, are out of the question for now, while Wright has added an extra hour to his daily pregame routine.) They also must figure out what to do if Wright struggles in future weeks. Already on Monday, the same defensive issues that plagued him during his rehab stint marred a portion of his night, resulting in two fielding errors at third base.
Collins has already discussed all that with his captain, telling him in no uncertain terms that he is a part-time player for now.
But Monday was a night for celebration, not business. Monday was a night to hear Wright's trademark laugh echoing through the clubhouse corridor, to see his grin flash toward old friends. Monday was a night to hear him stand before his locker and reminisce about playoff baseball, a long time coming for a Mets team suddenly smelling its reality.
"I think I'm at the point right now where the ego is well behind just actually winning," Wright said. "It's been a long time since I've experienced winning, so I just want to help this team do everything I can to take that next step."