For Wright, Mets' turnaround relies on pitching
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- There's this one moment burned into David Wright's mind. Almost eight years later, it still drives him.
"To experience what playoff baseball is like in New York, it's amazing," Wright said Thursday morning.
To be a member of the 2006 Mets, as Wright was, meant the whole New York baseball experience. Shea Stadium was packed down the stretch as fans hung on every single pitch. Cheers didn't really sound like cheers. They were more like thunderclaps, and being part of those teams was an unforgettable experience.
Some of Wright's memories of that season are almost surreal. The Mets won the National League East and lasted until giving up two ninth-inning runs to the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series.
"There were times, all of a sudden, at Shea Stadium, standing at third base, you could see the upper deck rocking back and forth," Wright said.
Now the Mets have spectacularly beautiful new digs in Citi Field, and as they prepare to begin a season of optimism and expectation, Wright thrives on the possibilities.
"I just think it's the motivating force of what drives you," he said. "I got a little taste of it. That's so cool. To experience that once, you want to get back there. It'll be even more intense at the new place."
Wright believes the Mets are close to doing just that. He looks around his clubhouse and sees the additions of three veteran free agents: right-hander Bartolo Colon and outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. Wright sees the potential of young players like catcher Travis d'Arnaud and center fielder Juan Lagares.
Most of all, Wright sees power arms up and down the system. He seems to believe in his heart of hearts that the Mets are poised to take a step forward.
To fast forward to Opening Day 2015, the Mets could very well have Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard lined up atop their rotation. All three of them throw hard and have high ceilings. In a dream scenario, they would lead the Mets for a decade.
For now, though, Harvey is recovering from Tommy John surgery and Syndergaard has been sent back to the Minor Leagues. Still, a rotation that includes Wheeler, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Colon and an offense that has Wright, Granderson and Young should take a step in the right direction in the NL East.
"I look in here and see these young pitchers," Wright said. "I've seen how prospects get hyped with a New York team. I've seen some of the guys that have been for real and some guys that have never quite panned out. But you look up and down this camp and you see the quality arms we have, in my eyes, that's the quickest way things get turned around. You look at San Francisco. You look at what Washington has done. It seems like the common denominator is young, power pitching. We have that."
The Mets came to Spring Training with questions about shortstop, first base and the back of the rotation. For now, none of those questions has been answered. Ruben Tejada is still the starting shortstop despite a shaky spring, and the Lucas Duda vs. Ike Davis competition at first has been slowed by injuries to both players. As for the fifth spot in the rotation, veterans Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan are battling with 24-year-old Jenrry Mejia for the fifth spot.
Even if the rotation is solid -- and it could be -- the offense may be a work in progress. But pitching is where it starts.
"You look at our lineup, and I'm not sure we're going to win all the games 12-10 and things like that," Wright said. "If our pitching is what I think it can be, it's going to keep us in a lot of ballgames."
One thing Mets general manager Sandy Alderson added with the additions of Colon, Granderson and Young was playoff experience. Also winning attitudes. As teams are trying to turn this kind of corner, from five straight losing seasons to competing in a division with the Nationals and Braves, attitude matters.
"I think if you have won, then you start to pick it up," Granderson said. "The great thing over here is the Minor League organization has won. The Triple-A team has won. The lower teams have won. Those guys come up together, and they're accustomed to winning. They don't expect anything different once they get to the top.
"It's very similar to when I was over in Detroit. We were very successful in the Minor Leagues, and once we all got up to the top, we started to be successful and continued to be successful. That can be contagious. You carry that over and add a couple of small pieces here and there and try to put this big puzzle together."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.