PHILADELPHIA -- The precautions were in place at Citizens Bank Park, as they will be for much of the young season. When David Wright followed up Saturday's first-inning home run with a single in the fourth, he balled up his batting gloves and held one in each hand, preventing him from extending his fingers on a slide. Wright knows now how much pain one finger can cause.
The Mets also have a new perspective on just how valuable their third baseman is. In his first game playing with a fractured right pinkie, Wright homered and finished with three hits, backing Jon Niese's strong effort and leading the Mets to the type of breezy 5-0 victory over the Phillies that they have grown accustomed to this season when Wright plays.
"I'm not surprised," manager Terry Collins said. "He's been swinging great. He took a couple days off, jumped right back in there and kept swinging great."
Less than 12 hours after indicating that the disabled list seemed likely, Wright started at third base and blasted the first pitch Vance Worley threw him over the center-field wall. Wright also hit two singles, flied out and hit into a double play, finishing 3-for-5.
But the way Wright mashed the first pitch he saw, the Mets did not need to see anything else. They knew that their third baseman was back in full force.
"It's good for the confidence, it's good for the psyche when you go up there and do well in your first at-bat back," Wright said. "It kind of puts that doubt in the back of your mind that you can go out there and feel pretty good."
"It was supposed to be a fastball away and it ran right back over the plate," Worley said. "Normally, my four-seamer won't do that. Good job by him."
Considering Lucas Duda also hit a two-run homer against Worley to bust out of an 0-for-15 slump, the Mets were able to give Niese more support than he would need. Not all of it was coincidence. In five games batting alongside Wright in the lineup, Duda is 5-for-19 with three home runs and a double. In three games without Wright, Duda is 0-for-10.
Though it may not always be that obvious on the stat sheet, the Mets understand how much of an effect Wright has on them.
"His presence in our lineup means a lot," Collins said. "I knew that last year. I know it now. He gets big hits when he's swinging good, just like he did today. It can be 1-0 in a hurry."
Staked to that sort of lead, Niese was rockier in the early innings Saturday than he was in his first outing, when he took a no-hitter into the seventh. The left-hander nearly gave up a two-run home run to Brian Schneider in the second inning at Citizens Bank Park, but Kirk Nieuwenhuis made a leaping catch near the warning track to end the inning.
Then Niese transformed. Beginning with that out, the left-hander retired seven consecutive batters and never pitched into a jam again, breezing through the rest of his 6 2/3 innings. Once Niese retired to the dugout, Bobby Parnell and Jon Rauch combined for the final seven outs, moving the Mets back to a season-high four games above .500.
"I've always said, I just want to go out there and try to help the team win," Niese said. "If you keep them in the ballgame, I think good things will happen with our offense."
Particularly with Wright in the lineup. During time on the bench in Saturday's game, Wright performed various exercises to prevent his fractured right pinkie from stiffening. He may need to continue nurturing the finger for some time, considering it should take six weeks to fully heal.
But as long as Wright can bear the pain, he can play. And Saturday, with adrenaline coursing through him, Wright bore the pain.
"I don't think I would have gone out and played if I didn't feel like I could go out there and contribute," Wright said.
He did not feel anything too painful on his home run, nor when Worley buzzed a fastball off the handle of his bat later in the game. Fielding was also not much of a problem during four chances at third base for Wright, who gloved each one cleanly and threw mostly on target.
The Mets can only hope those trends continue. Because doctors have told Wright he cannot further injure his finger by playing, the third baseman expects simply to improve every day. Imagine that. With three hits Saturday, Wright is already batting a team-best .588 in five games, and he also leads the Mets in on-base and slugging percentage. The Mets are 5-0 with him. They are 1-2 without him.
And none of them see any coincidence in that.
"When a guy like David Wright goes out and plays with a broken finger and everybody knows he's got it, and he plays the way he plays, all of the sudden the other guys don't hurt as bad," Collins said. "When they have something minor, they say, 'Look, if he can do it, so can I.' I think it sends a big message to everybody on the club."