PHILADELPHIA -- James Loney lifted his arms. He turned, bat raised in the air, and dropped it emphatically, eyeing his Mets teammates in the visitors dugout Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.Loney turned back toward the field and watched the 3-1 fastball from Phillies right-hander David Hernandez sail into the right-field
PHILADELPHIA -- James Loney lifted his arms. He turned, bat raised in the air, and dropped it emphatically, eyeing his Mets teammates in the visitors dugout Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.
Loney turned back toward the field and watched the 3-1 fastball from Phillies right-hander David Hernandez sail into the right-field seats. It erased a two-run shot from Ryan Howard an inning earlier and gave the Mets a lead they would not relinquish in a 5-3 win over the Phillies to clinch the top National League Wild Card spot.
It wasn't showboating, Loney said in the Mets' clubhouse as the celebration began to die down. In fact, the above description might be appreciated by the fill-in first baseman, who was so in the moment that he didn't remember what he even did with the bat.
• Shop for postseason gear
"That's called being in the moment right there," Loney said. "Throughout a baseball season, you go through ups and downs. That's just one of the moments where you're like yeah, I came out on top.
"As a hitter, you get out a lot. There's just times in those big moments where it's fun to enjoy it, and you've gotta have fun in this game."
The go-ahead shot couldn't have come off a more appropriate bat. This is a Mets team that just clinched a playoff spot with a starting nine filled nearly halfway with players who began the season on other rosters.
Loney was one, signed by the Mets at the end of May to replace the injured Lucas Duda. José Reyes was another, who general manager Sandy Alderson "took a chance on … when nobody else would," manager Terry Collins said. So was T.J. Rivera, a Minor League journeyman who made his MLB debut at the age of 27 -- and proceeded to hit .333 in 33 games as the Mets' starting second baseman down the stretch.
But Loney was so apropos -- more so than Reyes, Rivera, Jay Bruce or a handful of other acquisitions who were in the dugout Saturday -- because he wasn't even supposed to start Saturday. Duda returned from the back injury that had sidelined him for nearly two months on Sept. 18, relegating Loney to a bench role. He would have been the one facing Hernandez in the sixth inning with Curtis Granderson on second had he not still been recovering from the back injury, rarely playing day games after night games.
"I've known him since he was 17, so I was glad he's here," Collins said of Loney. "I know what kind of player he is. He has all the confidence in the world and he's as good at first base as anybody. And like you saw today, he gets big hits."
So Loney dug into the left-handed batter's box with the game tied. He didn't lift the bat for four pitches, taking a strike then three straight balls. When he did, he raised the bat as high as he could, admired the home run as it left the yard and reveled in the moment. He came out on top.
Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.