NEW YORK -- Lucas Duda was not the only player Terry Collins put "on notice" last week, when the Mets' acquisitions of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe finally gave their manager depth. He was just one of many struggling Mets who stood to lose playing time, considering his .166 batting average and .549 OPS in his most recent 45 games.
But when Collins gathered those players together and gave them his ultimatum, Duda may have absorbed the message quicker and more completely than anyone else.
"You could see the look in his eye," Collins said late Saturday night, after Duda hit two home runs and a go-ahead RBI double in the Mets' 3-2 win over the Nationals at Citi Field. "You could just tell."
Collins refuses to buy this as coincidence -- not with eight home runs in Duda's last seven games. Prior to his double, the first baseman's previous eight hits had all been homers, shattering the franchise record of five in a row. He is the first Met to bash at least 20 homers in consecutive seasons since Carlos Beltran (three straight seasons), Carlos Delgado (three) and David Wright (four) saw their streaks end when they all fell short of that mark in 2009 -- the first Met, in other words, to achieve that feat playing home games at Citi Field.
And in doing so, Duda seems only to be mocking Citi's still-generous dimensions. His first home run Saturday was projected by Statcast™ to land 446 feet away. His exit-velocity figures remain routinely elite.
"He's one of the strongest guys I've seen play," teammate Curtis Granderson said. "There's not a lot of guys that can move the baseball the way he does it."
Considering the three home runs that Duda hit off brothers Tyson Ross and Joe Ross this week, he won't be receiving a Christmas card from the Ross family anytime soon. Yet those two have hardly been his only victims.
"If I knew the secret," Duda said, "I'd apply it more often."
Should the Mets ride this wave of momentum all the way to October, trade acquisitions Yoenis Cespedes, Johnson and Uribe will almost certainly receive a lion's share of the credit. But Duda's 180-degree turn may prove most impactful. As recently as a week ago, on the morning of Johnson and Uribe's arrival, he was just one of several struggling Mets hitters -- a daily scapegoat, his issues stark on the heels of last year's 30-homer breakout.
Then, with that look in his eye, Duda hit two home runs mere hours after Collins spoke to him. He added another long ball two days later, then three more the next night.
And now this. After Jacob deGrom and the Mets tumbled into a quick 2-0 hole, Duda homered in the fourth inning to draw them back within one, homered again in the seventh to tie the game and doubled off left-hander Matt Thornton in the eighth to give the Mets their first lead. While Cespedes stood and watched, taking four intentional balls immediately prior to Duda's double, the Mets' 2014 MVP single-handedly won one of their most important games to date.
"I always thought he was going to have a good second half," Collins said. "We just wanted to send a message that he was our guy. And he was, he's been our guy. He's taken it to heart. He's a tremendous worker, wants to be good, and he's showing everybody what he can be."