NEW YORK -- With his boyish smile, big-man personality and slasher swing, Juan Uribe spent the final months of the regular season as maybe the most visible Mets player. Then he vanished, the result of a lingering chest injury clouded in a bit of mystery. Uribe couldn't swing without wincing, couldn't throw. Teammates say he still smoked his cigars. Meanwhile, New York punched its ticket to the World Series without him.
"I thought he was done," second baseman Kelly Johnson said. "I didn't even know he was doing anything to keep himself in shape."
But that Uribe would appear under the lights of baseball's brightest stage was never in doubt to Uribe himself. That he would contribute like he did Friday, by slicing a critical RBI single off Franklin Morales in the sixth inning of New York's 9-3 Game 3 win, amazed his teammates without surprising them.
When he pinch-hit for Noah Syndergaard in the sixth inning, Uribe dug into the batter's box for the first time since Sept. 25. That September at-bat ended prematurely, with Uribe clutching his chest after a check swing. He left the at-bat in the middle of it, hindered by a cartilage issue first suffered diving for a ground ball days earlier against the Yankees.
Since then, the only pitching Uribe saw came from coaches. More than a month of inactivity -- Uribe didn't travel with the team during the first two rounds of the postseason -- made visualizing Friday nearly inconceivable, unless your mind is Uribe's. You'd call it imagination, except that it actually came true.
"A lot of people gave me that question during Spring Training in L.A.," Uribe said, after asked about being ready for the World Series, in which the Mets now trail the Royals two games to one heading into Game 4 on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time). "I said, 'This year, I know I'm going to the World Series.' I was here in 2005, in 2010, and right now? I'm here. I'm here."
The largest crowd in Citi Field history made sure Uribe knew it, showering him with a massive ovation when he emerged from the dugout. The first real live pitch Uribe saw in 34 days sizzled in from Morales at 93 mph. The next three registered equally hard. Then Morales uncorked a 2-2 curveball, and Uribe sent it shooting into right. Juan Lagares scored New York's sixth run, and the Mets sprinted away from the Royals from there.
"To be able to not have an AB in a month and come through like that, it's impressive," Johnson said.
On Twitter, former teammate Brandon McCarthy offered this analysis: "You could wake Uribe up from a year-long coma and he'll hit offspeed in the zone. RISP in the World Series isn't best time for one."
Uribe won World Series titles with the White Sox in '05 and the Giants in '10. His postseason experience was a major reason the Mets acquired him from the Braves in July, after he'd been traded from the Dodgers earlier in the season. Since then, he's developed into a cult hero of sorts in Queens: donning colorful clubhouse attire (including hats with his name on them), and showcasing a flair for the dramatic.
Though he hit just .219 for New York during the regular season, Uribe remains beloved by fans and teammates. His huge RBI on Friday only cemented his status as such.
"Big league players are pretty talented guys. They do amazing things," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And when you've had the career like Juan has had, he's done amazing things."
Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.