NEW YORK -- When it was made, the decision to start Lucas Duda over Ike Davis at first base elicited skepticism and furrowed brows. Why Duda, whose track record of success paled in comparison to that of Davis? Why Duda, who produced inferior numbers in a so-called spring competition and was 0-for-6 after three games of the season?
This is why, provided Duda repeats what he did Friday with any shred of consistency. Displaying a more aggressive approach at the plate, Duda smashed two homers en route to a 4-3 Mets win over the Reds, their first of the season.
"I was just glad to play," the ever-quiet and self-effacing Duda mumbled after the game. "Glad we got the win tonight."
Officially named the Mets' starting first baseman Friday despite his .000 average and skittish plate approach through three games, Duda launched two-run homers off Mike Leake in the fourth and sixth innings, giving the Mets an early lead and later extending it. The result was the fifth multi-homer game of Duda's career.
Still, the scattered thousands who stayed until the end on a cold, rainy night at Citi Field could not be assured of victory until the final out. New York's bullpen absorbed significant damage for the fourth straight game, this time when John Lannan served up Jay Bruce's two-run homer with two outs in the seventh. That brought on Kyle Farnsworth, who combined with new closer Jose Valverde for the final seven outs. As is his custom, Valverde leapt off the mound upon striking out Bruce to end things, putting an exclamation mark on the Mets' first win.
"It's really big," manager Terry Collins said. "These guys, they're not just out, they're playing. They want to win. We've talked about it. They talk about it. We're a better team than we've played."
The first 18 outs were much easier to come by for the Mets thanks to Jenrry Mejia, who was electric yet inefficient in his season debut. Needing 101 pitches to complete six innings, Mejia struck out eight batters and walked five, allowing his only run on Bruce's RBI single in the third.
Duda and Bruce combined to drive in all seven runs in the game, prompting Leake to quip: "It was the Lucas Duda-Jay Bruce show today. Lucas Duda won."
And so the Mets also won thanks to their first real team effort of the season. Their starting pitching was solid. Their bullpen, while still shaky, generated outs when it mattered most. Their defense saved a run when Eric Young Jr. skied over the left-field wall to rob Brandon Phillips of a homer in the first. Their lineup scored thanks to Duda, and even their bench chipped in when backup catcher Anthony Recker -- who entered on a double-switch -- gunned down hyperbolically-fast Reds pinch-runner Billy Hamilton as he attempted to steal second base in the eighth.
In short, the Mets did most of the things they could not do in three consecutive season-opening losses to the Nationals.
"It's one of those things," Collins said. "Some teams get off to great starts and fade. We've just got to stay confident and stay upbeat and realize we've got a long, long way to go. But this one was huge for us."
It was huge also for Duda, who might have spiraled into a vortex of criticism had he stumbled in his first act as the starting first baseman. Instead, despite battling a head cold, Duda delivered one of the best individual performances of his career.
In his second plate appearance, the notoriously patient Duda stepped out of character as he jumped on a first-pitch changeup, smoking it just shy of the Shea Bridge in right-center field. Two innings later, Duda worked a 2-1 count before lining his second homer off the facing of the first deck in right. The at-bats were unlike anything he had previously demonstrated in the young season.
"It's great to have him certainly step forward and step up today," Collins said. "We as a team needed what he did immensely."
Among other things, Duda's homers gave the Mets optimism that their losing ways earlier this week were not a sign of things to come.
"We're going to win a lot," Mejia said. "This was the first one, and we're waiting for a couple more."