Terrance Gore wins with speed while the Mets hit 20

NEW YORK — It was around early June when the Mets first contacted Terrance Gore’s agent, already eyeing October. In the previous seven seasons, Gore had won three World Series rings as a pinch running specialist. He had stolen three times as many bases as he had hits in his career. The Mets wanted to be the first to court Gore and understand the kind of havoc he could wreak in the most important games.

Sunday afternoon marked the third time Gore served as a pinch runner for the Mets, entering a tie game in the eighth inning at Citi Field and promptly stealing a base. He was back in the dugout within minutes, having moved up to third through an error and scoring in Brandon Nimmo’s game-winning singles in a 7-3 win over the Pirates, which helped the Mets extend their one-game lead to keep the Braves in the NL East.

On a day when Mets pitchers set a major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, it was one player who never approached the bat stand who had an oversized impact. Thanks in part to Gore’s late steal, the Mets were able to sweep the Pirates and reduce their magic number to earn a playoff spot to 2. You can achieve this goal as early as Monday in Milwaukee.

“You deserve everything in this game,” said manager Buck Showalter. “Our boys continue to earn it every day.”

That includes Gore, who doesn’t just rely on his natural speed to steal bases. For about an hour each day, Gore examines opposing pitchers’ tendencies, from feet to eyes. Subtle things can alert him that a pickoff throw is imminent, like the three-pointer Manny Bañuelos attempted after Gore ran for Tomás Nido in the eighth hole. On none of those occasions did Gore even shift his weight to second place.

Prior to this sequence, first base coach Wayne Kirby told Gore that if he didn’t rely on a steal, the Mets could ask Nimmo to move him to second base.

“But I’m just fearless,” Gore said. “I’m really confident. So I said to him, ‘Absolutely not. I’m going to try and steal this base because I’ve been doing this for so long.’ I trusted in my speed.”

Ultimately, Gore broke for second, catcher Jason Delay’s throw slipped into midfield, and the Mets found themselves with a runner on third base and no outs. Nimmo followed with a bloop RBI single before the Mets followed up with a two-run Daniel Vogelbach single and an Eduardo Escobar RBI groundout.

With that, Joely Rodríguez was a winner, scoring five to the relief of Jacob deGrom. The starting pitcher had fanned 13 Pirates batters over five innings but allowed a game-defining three-run homer against Oneil Cruz in the sixth. Still, he set a new major league record by recording his 40th consecutive start with three runs earned or fewer.

Thus, a late rally became necessary for the Mets to complete their four-game series sweep. At the clubhouse, Gore began his usual routine of stretching, running sprints, and “doing anything to stay loose.” On his stolen base, Gore reached a top speed of 30.1 feet per second, which is elite. He says he once ran a 4.2-second 40-yard dash, which would make him one of the fastest professional soccer players in the world.

At 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, Gore never dreamed of an NFL career. He also never had much use for athletics, although one of his old teachers asked him to join the team. Gore doesn’t typically train on a running track, preferring baseball-specific workouts.

In doing so, Gore has built one of the most unique careers in the game. He won World Series rings with the Royals in 2015, the Dodgers in 2020, and the Braves last year, though he made four plate appearances for those teams combined. Counting the playoffs, Gore has 48 career steals and just 15 hits. And he might be on his way to Ring #4. When asked what difference Gore makes late in the games, Showalter’s eyes lit up. While the Mets won’t be finalizing their playoff list for another three weeks, Gore will at least be a strong consideration.

It’s the situation he finds himself in every October. This is old hat for Gore. It’s pretty new for the Mets. On Monday, for the first time since 2016, they have a chance to qualify for the playoffs, something none of them miss within the walls of the clubhouse.

“I’ve been here for a little over four years [and] haven’t played a playoff game yet,” said Jeff McNeil, who reached base five times in Sunday’s win. “I think the ultimate goal of spring training is to get back into the playoffs. You have no chance of winning the World Series if you don’t make it.”

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