At plate and behind, d'Arnaud an unsung hero

At plate and behind, d'Arnaud an unsung hero

KANSAS CITY -- Baseball fans just meeting these Mets when the World Series begins tonight (air time 7:30 p.m. ET, game time 8 ET, FOX) will recognize catcher Travis d'Arnaud as the guy who smacked a home run off the big apple beyond the center-field wall at Citi Field in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

No, that doesn't happen every day.

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Game Date Matchup
Gm 1 Oct. 27 KC 5, NYM 4 (14)
Gm 2 Oct. 28 KC 7, NYM 1
Gm 3 Oct. 30 NYM 9, KC 3
Gm 4 Oct. 31 KC 5, NYM 3
Gm 5 Nov. 1 KC 7, NYM 2 (12)

"In the two years I've been here," outfielder Curtis Granderson said, "I've only seen two, maybe three balls go out to center field. Not to the apple; I'm just talking about home runs in that direction. To go over that orange line and into the apple, that's amazing."

"The apple? That's tough," said Daniel Murphy. "That's a long way out there."

Chalk it up as the most visible of contributions for one of the Mets' unsung heroes. The Mets pulled away from the rest of the National League East after a trade for power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes on July 31, the same day d'Arnaud returned to the lineup from his second stint on the disabled list, that one because of an elbow injury.

Cespedes hogged the headlines by leading the Major Leagues with 17 home runs after the trade, but d'Arnaud quietly posted comparable numbers. d'Arnaud posted a superior OPS in August -- .901 to Cespedes' .872 -- as New York turned a two-game NL East deficit to Washington on the morning of Aug. 1 to a 6 1/2-game lead by the end of play on Aug. 31. And his .485 slugging percentage was the highest of any backstop with at least 250 plate appearances.

"If you look at Trav's numbers and start measuring them out over 140, 150 ballgames, he's a legitimate MVP candidate," Murphy said. "With the way he's handled this staff, the way he frames pitches back there, then you see what he does offensively. He's really lengthened out the lineup."

But he was limited to 68 games overall by two significant injuries -- a right hand fractured by an inside pitch from the Marlins' A.J. Ramos on April 19 and a sprained left elbow sustained on June 20. d'Arnaud played only eight games between the injuries.

In limited time, he finished with a .268/.340/.485 slash line, beating his previous big league averages. He's added three home runs in the postseason, including a pair of solo shots in the NLCS against the Cubs.

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Asked whether he felt he'd been overshadowed by Cespedes' success, d'Arnaud said, "I never really thought of that. I was just so happy to be a part of a winning team, to be with this great group of guys who have led me through this whole crazy year."

Mets captain David Wright has referred to d'Arnaud as "one of those premier offensive catchers." d'Arnaud credited Mets hitting coach Kevin Long for helping him find a hot streak upon returning to the lineup for good on July 31.

"It was keeping things simple. Have fun," he said.

Then there's his work with the Mets' young pitching staff.

"We have a great relationship. I think he has that with all of our pitchers," said 23-year-old Noah Syndergaard, who came with d'Arnaud from the Blue Jays in a trade that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto. "That's a huge thing when it comes to pitching to him. We have a great sense of trust with him.

"And he's a tremendous hitter. He keeps it so loose and relaxed in the box. I think that's why he has success."

Mets work out at Citi Field

The Mets celebrated d'Arnaud's apple-bruising home run before Game 2 by affixing a giant bandage to the spot it struck. The baseball, alas, went home with a fan who caught it on the carom.

d'Arnaud hopes to secure a keepsake from the World Series instead.

"Who didn't have a Wiffle ball game where you call out, 'Game 7, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, 3-2 count?'" d'Arnaud said. "I have the utmost confidence in this team and what we can do here."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.