10:30 am Mar. 13, 2013
It has been a difficult spring for the New York Mets.
Their announced Opening Day pitcher, Johan Santana, has suffered setbacks in his preparation for the season, is widely expected to begin the year on the disabled list, and is reportedly livid with team officials who pulled the patented Mets move of blaming the injured player. The club's decision to open up an Amway storefront at Citi Field, which seemed so much like parody of their own Madoff-stricken track record that I hesitated to write about it till I'd seen evidence of its existence with my own eyes, was roundly mocked.
But while the Mets scramble in Port St. Lucie to cobble together a starting outfield, one of the team's few positives is elsewhere, reminding everyone that there is a world-class player who will be playing home games in Queens this year.
David Wright is not just a member of the United States World Baseball Classic team; he has been their best player by far, and the reason the U.S. is still even in the tournament.
It isn't simply that Wright has managed the critical hits to advance the U.S. cause, although he has. Opposing pitchers simply cannot get him out.
The U.S. lost its opener to Mexico last Friday, 5-2. This wasn't due to Wright, who had two singles in four at-bats, one of them driving in a run. His teammates didn't follow suit, however, and the U.S. faced a game against Italy that could have all but eliminated them.
The game was knotted, 2-2, in the bottom of the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and two outs. Wright stepped to the plate and launched a grand slam just three innings after he'd sent Italy's right fielder to the fence on what turned into a rare out he's made in the tournament. This time, Wright pulled an outside pitch into the left-center field stands. He even added a single in the ninth, but was stranded.
Appropriately, Canada was determined not to let Wright beat them. Instead, Wright walked three times and doubled, reaching base more times than anyone else in a 9-4 U.S. win. Lest you think Canadian pitchers were wild, no one else on the U.S. team walked once.
By Tuesday night's second round game against Puerto Rico, announcer Matt Vasgersian had taken to calling Wright "Captain America." No one had ever called him that before, as far as I know, but the name seemed apt. Wright may just be the face of U.S. baseball, and is clearly up to the task.
Facing the same Puerto Rico team he'd beaten in 2009 with a walkoff hit, Wright had five R.B.I., one on a groundout in the second, another on a single in the fifth, and then his bases-clearing double to right-center field broke open the game in the eighth.
Wright, who is almost comically team-first in his words and deeds, described his domination this way: "The individual stuff is nice. But ultimately, it's about winning that first WBC championship for the United States."
What Wright is doing here is putting to rest the ludicrous notion that at best, he's some kind of complementary player and not a star. He's already put up numbers that have him on track to equal or surpass all but the very best to every play his position, third base, in major league history. His lack of a championship has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the team around him.
A man who was expected to join Wright on an eventual champion with the Mets, Jose Reyes, is having a fine W.B.C. of his own. Reyes will face Wright Thursday night, when the Dominican Republic takes on the United States.
For Mets fans, who aren't likely to see their team come anywhere close to a championship this year, the meeting will be bittersweet. But there is one thing to celebrate in unmitigated fashion: one of the best players to ever wear the Mets' uniform was retained for the long haul this past winter, and whatever else happens to the New York Mets, they're employing the justifiable face of American baseball to play every day.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Carmelo Anthony plans to play on his injured knee Wednesday night in Denver. What could go wrong?
The New Orleans Hornets had no answers for twin towers Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, losing 108-98 Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
The Big East Tournament began at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night for the last time in present form.
L.I.U.-Brooklyn earned an N.C.A.A. tournament berth by winning the Northeast Conference's automatic bid Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay has emerged as a suitor for Darrelle Revis.