But after two stints on the disabled list with post-concussion syndrome, Church finally had some fun of his own.
Church hit a grand slam, his first home run since June 1, and Brian Schneider added a homer in a six-run first inning that provided all the offense the Mets needed to beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-2 and complete a three-game sweep Wednesday.
“Delgado, he was joking about it today, ‘Hey, it’s been a while, you haven’t hit a home run in a while so why don’t you get one today?”’ Church said. “We shared a little laugh there when I touched home plate, ‘Hey, I got it out of the way.”’
The smiles on their faces show that the Mets are out to prove it’s a different atmosphere around them than last year.
New York’s road to redemption after last year’s seven-game collapse with 17 to play returns to Shea Stadium, where the Mets open an eight-game homestand Friday beginning with Philadelphia, their closest pursuer in the NL East at 3 games back. The Phillies play Washington on Wednesday night.
“We understand what happened last year. It’s a new season. We just have to play every day,” said starter Oliver Perez, who benefited from the highest-scoring first inning by the Mets in more than a year by scattering two runs off five hits and five walks. “We’re playing well, we have to continue to do the same.”
The Mets, winners of four straight and six of the last seven, finished this road trip in style by sweeping the Brewers in a potential postseason matchup after beginning it by squandering a seven-run lead against the Phillies on Aug. 26.
“It seems like a tough loss seems to propel us, or catapult us to another level,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “They responded real well, I’m very happy for them, very excited for them. We’re in a position to do some good things. We’ve got another big series coming up, and we’re playing pretty good baseball right now.”
Milwaukee leads Philadelphia by four games in the wild card chase, but since the All-Star break the Brewers are 0-7 against the NL’s divisional leaders and 8-10 against teams above .500 with 10 such games left to play.
“You don’t sit back here and say ‘Oh boy, the Mets have got our number.’ It was a good series. Yeah, we got swept but we didn’t want to get swept but we did. I think we match up OK with them,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “We didn’t learn anything that we didn’t know before about the Mets and the Mets didn’t learn anything that they didn’t before about us in this series. It was just a series.”
New York, leading the majors in first-inning runs with 123, battered Brewers starter Dave Bush, who is allowing opposing hitters to go .321 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in the first inning this year.
After an out, Bush (9-10) gave up three straight singles, including an RBI hit by Carlos Delgado to make it 1-0, then walked Carlos Beltran to load the bases.
Church, who sustained a concussion on March 1 and a second one on May 20 that sent him to the DL from June 6-29 and again from July 8-Aug. 22, drove an off-speed pitch to the Mets’ bullpen beyond the leaping grab of right fielder Corey Hart and pumped his right fist twice in a modest celebration as he rounded first.
The Mets went up 6-0 with two outs when Schneider hit a solo homer to almost the same spot in right field, the first time since July 19, 2007 that New York scored six or more runs in the top of the first inning.
New York got two runs in the eighth and another in the ninth. It didn’t matter, though, because Milwaukee couldn’t figure out a lefty for the third straight game after coming into the series with the best record against southpaws in the league.
The Brewers, who stranded 26 runners in the series, failed to score with two on and less than two outs in the first and third innings and didn’t push a run across until Hart’s RBI double in the sixth before leaving two more on base. J.J. Hardy added a solo homer off Perez (10-7) in the seventh, but that was it.
“It is not something you dwell on. We haven’t dwelled on it in the past and we have come back and played well following some times when we’ve played poorly. This was not a great series but we move on,” Gabe Kapler said. “We know we have to make better pitches and hit with runners in scoring position.”
That’s just what the Mets are doing right now, and Delgado had a new message for Church after the game, as reporters thronged his locker, waiting to talk to Church for the first time in a while: “Talk to these guys, so I can have my space back.”
Mets closer Billy Wagner (strained forearm) threw a 36-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday in New York. Tony Bernazard, vice president of player development, said that Wagner was “very strong” and Wagner’s next step will be to throw another bullpen on Friday. … Jose Reyes stole his 47th base this season, tying the Mets’ franchise mark of 281 set by Mookie Wilson. … Church’s only other grand slam came April 18, 2006 when he was with Washington.