The result was what, three weeks from now, could turn out to be a seminal win for the Mets. Rivera’s home run in the 10th inning lifted them to a 4-3 victory over the Nationals, capping his 3-for-4 night with a career-high three RBIs.
T.J. Rivera’s go-ahead solo jack
NYM@WSH: T.J. Rivera crushes 10th-inning solo homer
T.J. Rivera picks a great time to hit his first Major League home run, crushing a solo smash in the 10th to put the Mets up by one
“I was super excited going around the bases,” Rivera said, laughing. “It’s my first big league home run. It was a nice moment to have, which is pretty cool. But I was trying to keep my cool.”
That much lasted only a few minutes. After the Mets recorded three harrowing outs in the bottom of the 10th to seal their victory, Rivera lingered on the field to conduct a postgame television interview. He then walked back into the dugout and up a long flight of stairs to the clubhouse, where teammates had gathered in a line for high-fives. As Rivera turned the corner, hitting coach Kevin Long smashed a whipped-cream pie into Rivera’s face. Dollops of sugar fell to the carpet as Rivera waded through the party to his locker.
“For him to come up in that moment and shine like he did, that’s pretty impressive,” said reliever Jerry Blevins, who struck out Daniel Murphy to end the game. “And he’s a great kid, so I’m happy for him.”
Blevins K’s Murphy to end game
NYM@WSH: Blevins whiffs Murphy to seal the win
Jerry Blevins strikes out Daniel Murphy swinging to end the game, earning his first save of the year and securing the 4-3 win in extras
Moments before Rivera’s hit, Blevins was sitting in the bullpen alongside Jim Henderson, discussing the situation like two fans would. The two relievers considered the matchup against Nationals closer Mark Melancon a true test for Rivera, an undrafted free agent who made the big leagues through sheer force of will. Guaranteed nothing, Rivera forced his way from level to level by batting .324 in the Minor Leagues, needing to accomplish more than his higher-pedigreed teammates to make those jumps.
Even this summer, as Rivera sat atop the Pacific Coast League batting leaderboard, the Mets continually passed him over for promotions. He finally cracked the Majors in mid-August, stuck around for two weeks, went back to Triple-A Las Vegas, won the PCL batting title, then returned for good as a September callup.
Since then, Rivera appeared in three games as a pinch-hitter before Collins played his hunch, watching him collect two hits and a sacrifice fly. Collins then kept Rivera in the game to face one of the game’s best closers.
Rivera’s two-out RBI single
NYM@WSH: Rivera puts Mets on board with RBI single
T.J. Rivera pulls a two-out single through the left side to plate Asdrubal Cabrera from third base for the Mets’ first run of the game
“Everybody that’s ever had him has said, ‘This guy can really hit,'” Collins said. “He always has.”
Added Melancon: “These guys are big leaguers. They’re not up here for the heck of it. Everybody that is up there, they’ve got a bat in their hands and they’re the enemy.”
With Flores, Johnson and others capable of playing second base, Rivera isn’t liable to see significant playing time down the stretch. But any doubt regarding his ability to translate Minor League numbers into big league success seems to have vanished. In 47 Major League plate appearances, Rivera is now batting .333.
He has shifted perceptions and altered dispositions. Moments before Rivera’s hit, Jeurys Familia blew a save in a tough-luck ninth inning, allowing the Nationals to claw back into a 3-3 game. But the Nats did not end things when they had the chance, pushing the game to extras.
“We came off the field, and we still had some fight left,” Collins said. “Fortunately, T.J. came up with a big hit. It changed the mood immensely.”
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Source: Mets News / Collins’ hunch pays off as rookie Rivera rakes