By Anthony DiComo
NEW YORK — It was around early June that the Mets, already with their eyes on October, initially reached out to Terrance Gore’s agent. Over the previous seven seasons, Gore had won three World Series rings as a pinch-running specialist. He had stolen three times as many bases in his career as he had hits. The Mets wanted to be the first to court Gore, understanding the type of havoc he could create in the most important of games.
Sunday afternoon marked the third time that 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. Within minutes, he was back in the dugout, having moved to third on an error and scoring on Brandon Nimmo’s game-winning single in a 7-3 victory over the Pirates that helped the Mets maintain their one-game lead on the Braves in the NL East.
On a day in which Mets pitchers matched a Major League record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, it was a player who never approached the bat rack that had an outsized impact. Thanks in part to Gore’s late steal, the Mets were able to sweep the Pirates and reduce their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 2. They can accomplish that goal as soon as Monday in Milwaukee.
“You earn everything in this game,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Our guys continue to earn it daily.”
That includes Gore, who does not rely solely on his natural speed to steal bases. For about an hour each day, Gore studies opposing pitchers’ tendencies, starting with their feet and working his way up to their eyes. Subtle things can tip him off that a pickoff throw is coming, like the three that Manny Bañuelos attempted after Gore pinch-ran for Tomás Nido in the eighth. On none of those occasions did Gore so much as shift his weight toward second.
Before that sequence, first-base coach Wayne Kirby told Gore that if he was not confident in a steal, the Mets could ask Nimmo to bunt him to second base.
“But I’m just fearless,” Gore said. “I’m really confident in myself. So I told him, ‘Absolutely not. I’m going to try to steal this base because I’ve been doing it for so long.’ I trusted my speed.”
Ultimately, Gore broke for second, catcher Jason Delay’s throw skittered into center field and the Mets found themselves with a runner on third base and no outs. Nimmo followed with a bloop RBI single before the Mets tacked on with a Daniel Vogelbach two-run single and an Eduardo Escobar RBI groundout.
That made a winner out of Joely Rodríguez, who struck out five in relief of Jacob deGrom. The starting pitcher had fanned 13 Pirates batters over five innings, but allowed a game-tying three-run homer to Oneil Cruz in the sixth. Nevertheless, he set a new Major League record by recording his 40th straight start with three earned runs or fewer allowed.
Thus, a late rally became necessary for the Mets to cap their four-game series sweep. In the clubhouse, Gore began his usual routine of stretching, running sprints and “doing anything I can 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 place him among the world’s fastest professional football players.
At 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, Gore never dreamed of an NFL career. He never had much use for track and field, either, despite one of his old teachers begging him to join the team. Gore does not typically train on a track, preferring workouts that are tailored to baseball.
In that manner, 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, despite taking a total of four plate appearances for those teams combined. Counting the playoffs, Gore has 48 career steals and only 15 hits. And he could be on his way to ring No. 4. When asked about the difference Gore makes late in games, Showalter’s eyes lit up. While the Mets won’t finalize their playoff roster for another three weeks, Gore will at the least be a strong consideration.
It’s the situation in which he tends to find himself every October. For Gore, this is old hat. For the Mets, it’s quite new. On Monday, they have a chance to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016, which is not lost on any of them within the clubhouse walls.
“I’ve been here for a little over four years [and] haven’t played a playoff game,” said Jeff McNeil, who reached base five times in Sunday’s win. “I think the ultimate goal when you get to Spring Training is to get back to the playoffs. You don’t have a chance to win the World Series if you don’t get there.”