NEW YORK -- Lucas Duda walked out of the dugout onto the on-deck circle with Cincinnati leading the Mets by three runs in the seventh inning following Juan Lagares' one-out walk. Kevin Plawecki's single off Brandon Finnegan put runners at the corners.
Reds manager Bryan Price stood a full 50 seconds by the top step of the dugout, waiting for the Mets to make a move with reliever Logan Verrett due up, then walked to the mound as Duda returned to New York's dugout without being introduced.
Suddenly, Yoenis Cespedes appeared in the dugout, taping his wrists. After missing three straight games because of a leg injury, Cespedes walked up to the plate and rocketed a 93 mph fastball for a three-run homer. Slumping David Wright had a go-ahead single later in the inning, and the Mets rallied past Cincinnati 4-3 on Tuesday night for their 10th straight win against the Reds.
Was Duda a decoy or a delay?
Even Plawecki wasn't sure who would pinch hit for Verrett (3-0). As Plawecki waited, he spoke with Reds first baseman Joey Votto.
"He was like, 'What's going on?' I said, 'I'm just as confused as you are,'" Plawecki recalled. "That was a pretty crazy sequence of events."
Collins at first maintained the Mets couldn't find Cespedes, who had been hitting in the batting cage earlier.
"I said, 'Luca, someone's got to be on deck. I'm not putting you in, but go on deck,'" the manager explained.
But then, when asked whether he was trying to make the Reds think Cespedes was unavailable, Collins left a hint.
"Well," he said before chucking, "I don't necessarily bring up my thoughts behind the whole thing."
Duda wouldn't explain his point of view.
"Guys, you got to talk to Terry about that," he said.
Price left in the left-handed Finnegan to face the right-hander, and on Finnegan's next pitch -- his 107th and last of the night -- Cespedes electrified the small Citi Field crowd.
The ball left his bat at 111 mph and went just over the 8-foot blue wall erected for the 2012 season. It caromed off the deeper, taller green wall that set the original dimensions in 2009, and Cespedes initially seemed to think the ball was in play. But third base umpire Sam Holbrook immediately signaled home run, and Cespedes took a slow trot around the bases.
To the dismay of the Mets, Cespedes left the ballpark immediately after the game and did not speak with reporters.
"It was like out of a movie scene," Wright said. "All we needed was the fans to start chanting his name and him come out and have about five bats in his hand and start throwing them into the dugout and go up there, pick his favorite one and hit a homer."
Price insisted he wasn't played.
"I knew if I went to Cotham, they'd go to Duda, and he was the healthier player, so I wasn't sure if they were going to use Cespedes solely as a decoy or not," Price said. "Either way, if Cespedes was going to hit in that situation, I liked him against Finnegan because Finnegan had the three-pitch mix -- as opposed to, I could have brought in Tony to keep Duda on the bench."
Cespedes' sixth home run of the season was the major league-high 38th allowed by the Reds. Cingrani then relieved and Curtis Granderson tripled over speedy center fielder Billy Hamilton and off the fence in left-center. Asdrubal Cabrera struck out, and Wright fell behind 0-2 in the count before lining a fastball into left field. He had been 1 for 17 with runners in scoring position this year.
"It looked like one of those games we were going to lose," Wright said.
In a matchup of youthful gumption and veteran savvy, 23-year-old Finnegan pitched one-hit shutout ball for five innings against 42-year-old Bartolo Colon, then escaped two-on, no-out trouble in the sixth. Votto hit a third-inning sacrifice fly and Ivan De Jesus Jr. had a two-run homer in the fourth against Colon, who with 3,004 1/3 innings moved past the Yankees' CC Sabathia to become the leader among active pitchers.
New York has won five straight overall and eight of nine. The Mets are 10-2 since a four-game losing streak, pulling within two games of NL East-leading Washington.
Just like during the last two months of last season, Cespedes was the difference.
"You've got to just believe wholly 100 percent, and he does." Collins said. "You just shake your head."
Mets: C Travis d'Arnaud is on the DL for the fifth straight season. New York said he has a strained right rotator cuff, an injury the team hopes can heal quickly without surgery and won't cause a lengthy layoff.
Matt Harvey (1-3) is slated to start for the Mets against Jon Moscot (0-1) in Wednesday's series finale. Batters are hitting .200 (11 for 55) against Harvey through four innings this season, .353 (6 for 17) in the fifth and .714 (10 for 14) in the sixth.
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