NEW YORK (AP) — As he crouched in the on-deck circle, David Wright felt more nervous than he had in his entire career.
After all that rehab work, all those months and years spent waiting for this moment, the New York Mets’ captain finally made it back into a major league game Friday night.
“It was my first time on a baseball field that I can remember that I felt like I was going to throw up,” Wright said. “My heart felt like it was beating through my chest.”
He didn’t waste any time taking a hack, though.
Wright swung at the only pitch he saw, grounding out in his first plate appearance for the Mets in nearly 2½ years as New York lost 8-1 to the Miami Marlins.
“It really was amazing,” he said. “I really felt butterflies that I’ve never felt before.”
Sidelined by neck, back and shoulder injuries since May 27, 2016, the 35-year-old Wright pinch-hit leading off the fifth inning and received a warm ovation from the Citi Field crowd. After a long and arduous comeback, his return to the diamond was over in a flash.
With fans on their feet, his wife and young daughters in attendance and supportive teammates draped over the dugout railing, Wright immediately took a rip at a 96 mph fastball from Jose Urena.
The seven-time All-Star hit a bouncer to the left of third baseman Brian Anderson, who made a nifty pickup of a short hop and threw across the diamond to retire Wright. He gave a quick wave to the crowd and touched the bill of his helmet before returning to the dugout, where he high-fived and hugged teammates with a huge smile on his face.
“I wish I could have gotten a hit, but putting 96 (mph) in play isn’t so bad, either. So just the reaction from the crowd, I’ll remember that forever,” Wright said. “You make the out and you’re kind of like, man, if that pitch was just a little higher I think I could have done something with it. But that’s probably the only time in my career that making an out put a smile on my face.”
Wright is scheduled to start at third base Saturday night and get a couple of at-bats against the last-place Marlins in his goodbye game before a sellout crowd. Unable to overcome all the injuries, he said he expects this weekend to mark his final appearance in the big leagues.
“It’s going to feel like the playoffs, so it’ll be neat for David,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’ll be kind of cool for our younger players that have probably never seen an electric atmosphere like they’re going to see tomorrow because it’s going to be wild and David deserves it, the fans deserve it, and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Wright was on deck when the last out was made in the fourth, causing the crowd to boo loudly when the inning ended. He clutched his bat and paced the dugout for most of the next half-inning before bounding onto the field even before the Marlins took their positions with a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
“He looked like he was making his major league debut,” Callaway said. “That was a really cool moment.”
Once one of the top players in baseball, Wright was reinstated from the disabled list Tuesday but didn’t play in New York’s three-game series against NL East champion Atlanta this week.
“It’s going to be a sleepless night, I know that,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, but tomorrow is going to be surreal for me.
“Just to be able to get in the flow of the game a little bit and to really be able to soak it in and enjoy the moment I think is my goal,” Wright added. “A hit wouldn’t hurt but expectations are low so I’ll be smiling tomorrow, hits or outs.”
Wright made his major league debut for the Mets in 2004, three years after they drafted him 38th overall. He is the longest-tenured active player to spend his entire career with one team.
He is the franchise leader in hits, RBIs, runs, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits and walks. His 242 home runs trail only Darryl Strawberry (252) on the Mets’ career list. Wright also hit the first World Series home run at Citi Field and had four RBIs in a Game 3 victory against Kansas City in 2015.
Wright homered in each of his last three games in 2016 before needing season-ending neck surgery, one of several medical procedures he’s undergone since then.
“He looked like himself, really, the stance and the whole thing,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “Really happy for him from the standpoint of working his way back. Takes a lot, tells you a lot about his character.”
Urena (9-12) won his sixth straight decision, holding the Mets to one run over six innings.
Peter O’Brien and Lewis Brinson each doubled home a run in the fifth against reliever Paul Sewald (0-7).
JUST LIKE OLD TIMES
Wright is looking forward to taking the field Saturday with longtime teammate and friend Jose Reyes alongside him at shortstop. “I think he’s hitting leadoff and I’m hitting third. It’s like Old-Timers’ day around here, so it’ll be nice,” Wright said. “It’s going to bring back obviously a lot of memories. We’ve been reminiscing for the last couple of weeks.”
CAPTAIN IN THE CAGE
The Citi Field gates will open at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday so fans can watch Wright and the Mets take batting practice.
A GIFT FOR YOU
Just as the game was about to start, Wright said he was getting ready in the weight room when Mets ace Jacob deGrom presented him with a huge bottle of wine on behalf of the starting pitchers. “They engraved it with all this cool stuff,” Wright said.
Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo has drawn 10 walks in his last five games. He has walked 29 times in September, breaking the club record for any month previously held by Keith Hernandez (28 walks in July 1984).
Mets: OF Juan Lagares (torn left big toe plantar plate) is expected to be at full strength for the start of spring training. … Right-handers Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo have been shut down for the rest of the season. “We feel that this is taking care of them heading into the offseason so they can come back and be even better next year,” Callaway said.
Marlins: RHP Trevor Richards (4-9, 4.66 ERA) looks to build upon his best start in the majors. The rookie blanked Cincinnati for seven innings on Sunday, striking out nine.
Mets: LHP Steven Matz (5-11, 4.14 ERA) will be making his career-high 30th start of the season.
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