OK, let’s address the elephant in the room right away: that throw. That throw lives in Mets’ infamy along with Carlos Beltran’s take, Timo Perez’s trot, Dwight Gooden’s fastball, Luis Castillo’s drop and Yogi Berra’s pitching rotation. Yes, that throw. In game five of the 2015 World Series, with the Mets fighting for their lives – down three games to one to the Kansas City Royals – they took a 2-0 lead into the top of the ninth inning. The fans at Citi Field, of which I was one, were howling to let manager Terry Collins send Matt Harvey out to the mound to finish off his heretofore magnificent performance. The howling dimmed when Harvey walked the leadoff hitter, the swift Lorenzo Cain. On the first pitch to Eric Hosmer, the next hitter, Cain stole second. Hosmer knocked Cain home with a double over the head of left fielder Michael Conforto. After Mike Moustakas grounded out, sending Hosmer to third, Salvador Perez hit a three-hopper to third. David Wright scooped it up and made a looping throw to first baseman Lucas Duda for the second out. As Duda reached out to snare it, though, Hosmer made a mad dash for home. The surprised Duda made a hard peg to the plate with a chance to end the game. If Duda makes an accurate throw, he would nail Hosmer by three steps and the Mets would take game five. After that, back in Kansas City, who knows what could happen? A rejuvenated Jacob deGrom could have evened the Series in game six and Noah Syndergaard was built to pitch a game seven, even as a rookie. Who knows…?
Well, we know. Duda’s throw sailed wide to the right of catcher Travis d’Arnaud, Hosmer dove for the plate and scored, the game was now tied and the Royals started frolicking as if they’d already won. We Met fans pretty much knew they already had, even though the torture lasted until the twelfth inning, when Kansas City plated five insurmountable runs.
To be fair, Duda was never known for his glove. He’s a big, quiet, Li’l Abner-looking kind of guy. He came to spring training as a largely unknown in 2009, looking like so many hulking AAAA-caliber sluggers the Mets seem so adept at finding. He found himself in lineups for his home run bat and not much else. But the Mets’ brain trust saw something besides brute strength and brought him up for the proverbial cup o’ coffee in late 2010. He rode the Buffalo shuttle for 2011, playing most of his major league games at first base. Making the big club for good in 2012, he was tried in the outfield for two seasons, to mainly disastrous results. He finally found a home at first base in 2014, winning the position battle from the injury-plagued, eventually-traded Ike Davis. Here, he blossomed, becoming one of the top sluggers in the National League with 30 home runs, 92 RBI, an .830 OPS and garnering enough votes to finish 22nd in the MVP balloting. In that pennant year of 2015, he missed 27 games due to injury, but still managed 23 homers, 72 RBI, an .838 OPS and – always a streaky hitter — he was beyond clutch down the stretch of the pennant race. This shy, reluctant slugger, this quiet Californian was suddenly a New York hero.
In 2016, Duda spent most of the year on the shelf with a back injury. The Mets had to import veteran first baseman James Loney to make their successful playoff run in 2016, with Duda making rusty starts down the stretch. As the whole team fell apart last year, Duda became a trading chip. He was shipped to Tampa at the deadline for reliever Drew Smith. He never will live down that throw against the Kansas City Royals.
Yesterday, Lucas Duda signed as a free agent to play first base for the Kansas City Royals, replacing Eric Hosmer.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.