NEW YORK -- Rajai Davis has hit much bigger home runs, in more important games, than the one he hit in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Citi Field.
But it’s doubtful he has ever hit one under more bizarre circumstances, or one that caused his manager to smile as widely as Mickey Callaway did after the Mets come-from-behind 6-1 win over the Washington Nationals.
And that is saying something, considering Callaway, as the Cleveland Indians pitching coach, was in the dugout the night Davis belted a two-run home run off Aroldis Chapman in the seventh game of the 2016 World Series to temporarily put on hold the Chicago Cubs dream of snapping baseball’s longest World Championship drought.
Coming in a game between two sub-.500 teams in mid-May, this one couldn’t possibly compare to that one, could it?
“It felt like it to me,’’ Callaway said.
The crack was meant as a joke and was received as such by the media corps in attendance. But in fact, it was also an indication of how important even relatively minor victories are to the Mets right now, and how vital those victories could be for Callaway’s future as the Mets manager.
“When you win, there’s a different feeling around a ballclub,’’ Callaway said.
I’m not here to spin some sappy fairy tale about how a meeting earlier in the week between the team owner, its GM and its manager turned the season around for a faltering ballclub. The ineptitude of the Nationals, and in particular its generous bullpen, have more than done their part to right the Mets’ ship after their lost weekend in Miami.
But there’s little doubt that whatever was said in that powwow on Monday, in which Callaway emerged still having a job, had a discernible effect on the way the team has gone about its business over the ensuing three days.
For one thing, Callaway finally bowed to the inevitable and conceded that yes, closer Edwin Diaz might on occasion have to get more than three outs in one night. And that yes, Jeurys Familia has failed in his role as Diaz’ set-up man, and as long as Seth Lugo remains on the IL, pitchers such as Drew Gagnon and Tyler Bashlor would have the opportunity to audition to fill the vacancy.
And oh yeah, remember when Dominic Smith was told to lose his outfielder’s glove? Well, with Brandon Nimmo on the IL with unspecified “inflammation’’ -- he has been troubled with a stiff neck -- and Jeff McNeil suffering from hamstring tightness, it was determined that Smith should resume practicing tracking fly balls in the outfield, you know, just in case.
That embargo against personal catchers? Well, it’s still officially in effect. But with Jacob deGrom on the mound, there was Tomas Nido behind the plate again, and why not? In five starts with regular catcher Wilson Ramos, deGrom had pitched to a 5.33 ERA. In his three starts throwing to Nido, deGrom had allowed just one run in 21 innings.
Two-thirds of the way through Wednesday night’s game, deGrom's numbers with Nido had improved to two runs allowed in 27 innings. But with Max Scherzer throwing for Washington, that one run, on a first-inning home run by Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier’s nemesis, had held up.
And with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth inning and Washington manager Dave Martinez going to his own closer, Sean Doolittle, to lock things down, it looked like 1-0 might turn out to be the final score.
But then strange things began to happen. Juan Lagares, hitless in his previous 12 at-bats -- but 2-for his last 4 against Doolittle -- jumped on an 0-1 fastball and lined it into the gap, clearing the bases and giving the Mets a 3-1 lead. The Nats then intentionally walked pinch-hitter Ramos.
Enter Davis, who only five hours earlier had finished taking batting practice for the Syracuse Mets, who were about to play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in Allentown when the manager, Tony DeFrancesco, came over to tell him he was on his way to Flushing.
“I thought Tony was playing a little joke on me,’’ Davis said. “But it wasn’t a joke.’’
Neither was the two-plus hour ride in an Uber with a driver named Jason, with whom Davis bonded, nor the $234 fare, which the Mets paid, nor the third-inning arrival in Flushing, the fifth-inning reuniting with Callaway, or the eighth-inning call to the plate.
And certainly no one on the Washington side was laughing when Doolittle sent a fastball in at 94 MPH and Davis sent it back out 10 MPH faster, on a line off the facing of the left-field seats, The three-run homer, his first in the major leagues since June 9, 2018, a span of 95 at-bats, drove Doolittle from the game and cemented the Mets third victory in a row.
The shot drew an ovation from the crowd as Davis, who has batted just .223 with a total of six home runs and 26 RBI for three different teams since leaving the Indians after the 2016 Series, took his position in right field.
“I’m just really grateful and thankful for the opportunity the Mets gave me,’’ said Davis, 38, who was signed to a minor-league deal in December and wasn’t quite burning it up in Syracuse, where he was batting .277 with three homers and 7 RBI. “I was trying to make an impact right away and I was fortunate enough to be able to be put in that position, to make something happen.’’
The win blunted the impact of yet another injury -- Robinson Cano left the game with quad tightness after, ironically, running hard to first base on a third-inning ground out -- and the reality of the fact that even though they enter Thursday’s series finale on the verge of a rare four-game sweep, the Mets remain two games under .500 and 4-½ games behind the Phillies in the NL East.
“It’s definitely big for us,’’ said deGrom, who settled for a no-decision but saw his ERA drop from 3.98 to 3.72. “Nobody wants to have a road trip like we had. But there’s a lot of baseball left. That was over with, everybody stayed positive and now we’ve won three in a row.’’
Over the course of a 162-game series, a three-game winning streak is pretty small potatoes.
But coming on the heels of a potentially season-ending weekend, it could almost feel like a World Series victory.