David Wright added another couple of lines to his admittedly premature case for the award on Thursday night, going 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs, including a game-ending bloop single off Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. By nearly any measure, he's at least a serious candidate at midseason, if not the leading candidate.
The fans at Citi Field made their take on the issue perfectly clear, chanting "M-V-P" for the six-time All-Star as he reveled in the moment before joining his teammates in the clubhouse. Wright got the ceremonial punches and the ceremonial pie-in-the-face as an energized crowd showered him with its adulation. There's not much more a player can do to be a hero in this part of New York than to hand the Phillies a ninth-inning heartbreaker.
And whether you like hard numbers or soft factors, it's hard to quibble too much with the Flushing faithful. By both objective and subjective measures, there aren't many, if any, more valuable players in the NL in 2012.
Wright ranks fourth in the league in batting average, second in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging, second in RBIs and fifth in runs scored. He's playing plus defense at third base, and he's been the most indispensable member of one of the biggest surprise teams in baseball. He'd be starting at third base in the All-Star Game if not for a late balloting rush from some western precincts for Pablo Sandoval.
"He makes us go right now," said second baseman Daniel Murphy, who drove in the tying run in the ninth.
New York finished Thursday night in Wild Card position, thanks to a quality rotation and a better than expected lineup. The Mets rank third in the league in runs scored despite having only four players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. The "without him, what?" argument is stronger for Wright than any other candidate save perhaps the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen.
There's been a lot of mix-and-match in the Mets lineup, with the constant of Wright in the No. 3 spot. That's the traditional case, and it's the kind of case that tends to win a whole lot of votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America when fall rolls around.
For the more sabermetrically inclined, though, there's also plenty of evidence. Wright tops the Major Leagues in WAR (wins above replacement) as measured by BaseballReference.com. In Fangraphs.com's flavor of WAR, he entered Thursday night in second place to Joey Votto, but by a slim enough margin that it's easy to envision the big night pushing him past the Reds' first baseman.
"He's been fantastic," said R.A. Dickey, the right-hander who has been the other most essential Met in 2012. "Golly. Defensively, offensively, big hits, hits to lead off innings, you name it, he's an All-Star. It's a crime he's not starting."
Making it all even more remarkable is that more than a few people thought this July might be Wright's final month in a Mets uniform. With the team projected to be a second-division club, and Wright entering the final non-option year of his current contract, it was easy to envision a scenario where he was traded to a contender in July.
Instead, he's on a contender. And he's not going anywhere. Ironically, it's the pitcher who started for Philadelphia on Thursday, Cole Hamels, who may be the man dealt from a struggling NL East club.
There's a whole lot of season left to play, and baseball history is littered with half-season sensations who fizzled in the late-summer doldrums. Wright knows this as well as anyone, having seen it with the Mets as recently as 2010.
"There's two halves in the season," Wright cautioned. "Individually, it's kind of the pessimistic side of me, I always think I can improve on some things. I think there's a lot of things I can work on for the second half. But the biggest thing is you can't get complacent with where you're at. It's a humbling game."
But if he does keep it up ... and if they keep it up ... then yet another Mets drought could come to an end. They've never had an NL MVP in 50 previous seasons in Queens.
And just as Johan Santana was the most perfect person to throw the first Mets no-hitter, so would Wright be the absolute perfect person to win the franchise's first MVP Award. He's become the face of the franchise, a homegrown star who has excelled in good times and bad.
They deserve it. He deserves it. Now they've both just got to finish the job.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.