New York Mets captain David Wright acknowledges the fans during pre-game introductions on Opening Day before a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets on March 29 at Citi Field in New York City. Photo by Rich Schultz/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK -- The 1,584th major league game for David Wright was the first one in which he ever thought he was going to throw up while in the on-deck circle. The 1,585th major league game also promises to be an unprecedented experience for Wright, who will make his final appearance in the bigs Saturday night when the New York Mets host the Miami Marlins in the penultimate game of the season for both teams at Citi Field.
Jose Urena earned the win by allowing one run over six innings Friday night as the Marlins won the series opener, 8-1.
Mets left-hander Steven Matz (5-11, 4.14 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Marlins right-hander Trevor Richards (4-9, 4.66) on Saturday night. But all eyes before, during and after the game will be on Wright, the career-long Met who will be forced to retire after the season due to chronic neck, shoulder and back injuries.
"I'm happy that David got back to the field," said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, whose own career was shortened by back woes. "He's worked so hard and you hate to see guys battle, battle, battle to not get back to the field. The fact that he worked his way back, I think tells a lot about David, his kind of desire."
Wright's pinch-hit at-bat in the fifth inning Friday night -- he grounded out on the first pitch he saw from Urena -- was his first at-bat for the Mets since May 27, 2016, when he went 1-for-4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and struck out against Louis Coleman in his final plate appearance.
Wright underwent complicated neck surgery -- it was officially termed a "cervical discectomy and fusion surgery" -- 20 days later. It was the first of three operations for Wright, who had right rotator cuff surgery last Sept. 5 and a lower back operation exactly a month later.
Wright recovered well enough to embark upon a three-week rehab assignment in August. But while playing for Class A St. Lucie and Triple-A Las Vegas, he realized his body would not allow him to play any longer.
"Physically and the way I feel right now, and from everything that the doctors have told me, there's not going to be any improvement," Wright said during a tearful press conference Sept. 13. "So, yeah, I don't see (continuing his career in 2019) as a possibility."
There were no tears for Wright on Friday, when he and manager Mickey Callaway agreed he would make a pinch-hitting appearance the first time Callaway had to replace the pitcher. But Wright's dinner nearly made an unexpected appearance in the on-deck circle in the fourth inning, when he was preparing to bat behind Kevin Plawecki.
"I bent down for a minute and I was like 'It might come out,' " Wright said with a grin afterward. "My heart felt like it was beating through my chest and I was like 'I can't do this right now.'"
Fortunately for Wright, Plawecki hit into a fielder's choice for the final out.
The next inning Wright received a standing ovation from the crowd of 27,045 both before and after his at-bat.
"I've played in a lot of Opening Days and I've played in some playoff games and some World Series games and I never felt that type of nervousness that I felt tonight," Wright said. "Like I said, there were points where I felt like I was pretty close to throwing up, but once it was over and I got a chance to kind of look up a little bit, I wish I could have gotten a hit. But putting (a) 96 (mph fastball) in play isn't so bad either. Just the reaction from the crowd, I'll remember that forever."
Wright will receive plenty of ovations Saturday, when the Mets expect a rare sellout. The gates will open at 4:30 p.m. so that fans can watch Wright take batting practice. Callaway said Wright will likely receive two at-bats before being pulled before the top of an inning.
Wright is scheduled to spend at least an inning with the Mets' broadcast crew after he leaves the game. He'll end the night by addressing the crowd after the final out.
As for what he expects?
"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 for (Saturday)," Wright said. "A hit wouldn't hurt. But expectations are low, so I'll be smiling (Saturday), hits or outs."
The spate of injuries will bring a low-key ending to a career that once appeared destined to land Wright in the Hall of Fame. Through his age-30 season in 2013, Wright had a .301 batting average, a .382 on-base percentage and a .506 slugging percentage in 1,374 games, numbers which compared favorably to George Brett (.316/.370.,503 in 1,358 games) and Chipper Jones (.309/.404/.544 in 1,252 games).
"There is a sadness to it," Callaway said Friday afternoon. "We're glad he gets to go out there tomorrow and be in front of the fans and in front of his daughters and we're glad that his hard work paid off. He did everything he could to come back and he's going to get to show everybody one more time."
Matz didn't factor into the decision in his most recent start last Sunday, when he gave up three runs over three innings as the Mets beat the Washington Nationals 8-6.
Richards earned the win Sunday, when he tossed seven scoreless innings in the Marlins' 6-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Matz is 3-2 with a 3.26 ERA in seven career starts against the Marlins, and that includes a 1-0 record and 2.31 ERA in two starts against Mia mi this season.
Richards took the loss in his lone outing against the Mets on Sept. 12, when he gave up six runs (four earned) over five innings as Miami fell 13-0.