NEW YORK -- A brief history against Elvis Araujo had taught Wilmer Flores one thing: look for the slider. Araujo throws it often and in various counts, so when Flores came to the plate in a tie game in the 10th inning Tuesday, he was searching for it.
With two men on base and two outs, Araujo threw a fastball first, before looping his signature slider across home plate. Flores recognized it, dropped his shoulder and swung, driving it into left-center field for the second walk-off RBI of his career in a 5-4 win over the Phillies.
"It's a good feeling," he said, grinning in the postgame clubhouse.
Good feelings have been easier to come by recently for Flores, who spent most of the early season enduring daily lumps of criticism for his defensive play at shortstop. Some of that has dissipated in recent weeks, as his performance has improved while his offensive game has molded into form.
On Monday, Flores broke a tie game wide open with a three-run homer, assuming the Major League lead for home runs by a shortstop. He then hit line drives in each of his first four plate appearances on Tuesday, breaking through for a game-tying sacrifice fly off hard-throwing Phillies reliever Ken Giles in the eighth.
That, for Flores, was nice. But what happened next was nicer. A 10th-inning rally brought him to the plate against Araujo hunting sliders.
"I faced the guy before and I was looking for a breaking ball," Flores said. "I got it up, he threw it, I was ready for it."
More and more, Flores seems ready for what opposing pitchers are throwing his way. Throw out the first eight games of this season, in which Flores was 4-for-25, and he is batting .270 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in 123 plate appearances. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season, and it becomes clear that Flores has the potential to develop into one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball -- if he is not one already.
Though defense remains a significant issue, Flores has not committed an error in nearly two weeks. He is now tied for fifth in the league for errors, no longer particularly close to the top of that dubious leaderboard.
Mets manager Terry Collins considers those two trends interrelated.
"I truly believe Wilmer's gotten past [his issues]," Collins said. "He realizes there's going to be a day that you're going to make an error. He's got to play through that, and I think he's doing that. We're starting to see a guy who's going to start swinging the bat like we know he can. He's going to put up some offensive numbers that people are going to be pretty impressed by.
"I see a completely different player."
Simply put, Flores has become reliable. His offensive potential was always there, but his comfort in the big leagues -- it's easy to forget that Flores is still just 23 years old -- was not.
Now, with each game-tying or go-ahead hit, Flores seems to believe more and more that he belongs.
"I feel good," Flores said. "I feel good. I'm right where I want to be."