Carter was right out of a Hitchcock movie. For a few days at least, guys kept their distance.
On a cool baseball evening some 12 weeks later, some of the same distance-keepers were embracing Carter, slapping "attaboys" on his back and shaking his hand rather than their heads.
"He's really intense. But it's good intense," Ike Davis insisted Tuesday night. "He doesn't make you afraid of him."
Well, maybe not now.
Carter clearly had won his teammates over well before Spring Training ended. And then as a booster shot of acceptance, he produced the hit that proved decisive in the Mets' unlikely come-from-behind victory against the Nationals on Tuesday night. His pinch-hit double in the eighth inning, the team's most productive inning since last summer, produced the Mets' first lead in what became an 8-6 victory and another reason for shaving cream in the face.
Carter's double into the right-field corner in his first Mets at-bat was the most rousing development in the six-run inning that stood in contrast to the dreary 7 1/2 innings that preceded it. It was a booster shot for a team in danger of losing to the Nationals for the fourth time in five games this season and dropping its third successive game at home.
"You know, I think it picked us up even more because it was him," Jeff Francoeur said. "We were so happy for him, and I know he was so happy to play a big role in it. What a great way to win. This one more than makes up for a game we might have given away."
The Mets trailed by three runs before they came to bat in the first inning and by five after 5 1/2 innings. Moreover, they had done next to nothing with multiple opportunities against Scott Olsen. The circumstances were not at all conducive to winning. But there in their dugout was Carter, back in the big leagues for less than 24 hours, pacing, prepping and promising to produce if his name was called.
He had been summoned to Citi Field late Monday night after the Mets designated Frank Catalanotto for assignment. He arrived at the park at about 1 p.m. ET and took lots of batting practice just in case the Mets needed a hero for their 33rd game.
"He started pacing after four innings," Alex Cora said. "He was going to pinch-hit [in the sixth] but didn't get the chance, and when [Mets manager] Jerry [Manuel] put me up to lead off the seventh, I think Chris was mad at me."
The proper time hadn't come yet for the player Manuel christened as "The Animal" in March. Carter would arrive at camp just as the nocturnal creatures of Florida's East Coast were saying their prayers. He'd be on the exercise bicycle before Manuel, the coaches and the sun arrived.
"Alex beat him one morning," Manuel said. "And it bothered the Animal."
|"It was awesome. What a feeling! I felt it in my chest, I think. I don't know how I felt it. All I know is it's a feeling I'd like to have again."|
|-- Chris Carter|
So Carter's 1 p.m. arrival from Louisville hardly was out of character. And according to Davis, neither was his double.
"He won a game for [Triple-A Buffalo] with a home run," Davis said. "And he had a big double. He can hit. And I don't know I've ever met anyone so positive."
Neither the Red Sox, who traded Carter to the Mets in October, nor the Mets doubted his bat. Carter had a good spring, Catalanotto had a better resume, Carter had a ticket to Buffalo. And now he's a Citi Field hero -- for at least one more day.
His hit was the Mets' sixth of the inning and their 16th of the night, a season high. It followed two pitching changes, a run that scored on an error, a two-run double by Rod Barajas against losing pitcher Tyler Clippard, a bunt single by Cora -- "Once A.C. put that bunt down, I think we knew we'd pull this one out," Davis said -- and a run-scoring single by Angel Pagan.
Carter, who had six singles in 23 big league at-bats with the Red Sox over the last two seasons, saw successive changeups from Clippard. The Nationals expected the circumstances to add to Carter's natural intensity. Changeups seemed logical. But the first one prepared him for the second.
"I told myself not to hit into a double play," he said, knowing that the Mets already had grounded into three. "I was hoping to get it down the line."
Carter's double scored Cora from second base and moved Pagan to third. Miguel Batista, the third pitcher of the inning, replaced Clippard, walked Jose Reyes intentionally and then Jason Bay for the sixth run.
The Mets nearly scored 10 runs in the inning, but a high fly ball by Davis that seemingly passed over the right-field foul pole was ruled foul before and after an appeal by the Mets. No slam, but the Mets had done enough to overcome a five-run deficit for the first time since last July and produce their fifth victory in their last at-bat this season.
Davis made a different type of contribution in the ninth. He made another -- yes, his third -- heels-over-head catch of a foul popup and tumbled into the Mets' dugout for the final out. It helped him deal with five hitless at-bats and too many colleagues left on base. The Mets had produced two hits in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position before the eighth, when they had four in nine at-bats.
The inability to deliver and a flawed performance by Jon Niese put them in jeopardy. Niese allowed a three-run home run by Adam Dunn on a 3-0 pitch in the first inning, and gave up three more runs in the fifth. Francoeur drove in both runs for the Mets, one with a single against Olsen, and another with a sacrifice fly against Olsen's successor, Tyler Walker.
Niese was undermined by walks, five of them in 4 1/3 innings. That's Oliver Perez territory. He had allowed 12 walks in 35 innings in his first six starts, five coming in one start in which he pitched into the sixth inning. Three of the walks became runs.
But none of that mattered after the Animal was let out of his cage.
"It was awesome," Carter said. "What a feeling! I felt it in my chest, I think. I don't know how I felt it. All I know is it's a feeling I'd like to have again."
"I saw how much he enjoyed it," Francoeur said. "Knowing him, he'll be up all night preparing to do it again. He'll be here when we come in. He probably won't leave. He is an animal."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.