And in the pasture, methinks — a.k.a. center field.

In Thursday’s matinee, rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis started the Mets’ attack with a leadoff triple in the home 1st and scored the game’s first run. It might have remained their only run, but Miami closer Heath Bell had an unprecedented loss of control in the 9th, walking four batters to force in the tying run. And then with 2 out, Nieuwenhuis came up and banged a 1-0 meatball off the wall in RF to win the game with his third hit 0f the day.

  • Bell had never walked more than 3 in a game, and he did that just twice in 441 career games.
  • The 46 pitches were 8 more than Bell had ever used in a stint of 1 inning or less. It’s also 8 more than any other reliever has thrown this year in 1 IP or less.
  • Mets PA of the year so far goes to Justin Turner, who earned the game-tying walk by fouling off seven two-strike pitches in a 13-pitch at-bat, including four straight with a full count.
  • This was the second time in a 3-game series that the Marlins let in a late tying run on four walks. Turner and Josh Thole drew walks in both “rallies.”
  • As if winning the game wasn’t enough, the hit by Nieuwenhuis broke the Mets’ season-long 0-for-17 schneid with the bases full.
  • I don’t understand the Mets fans who have booed Jose Reyes in his first return as a Marlin. But this might have been their favorite play today.
  • The tally for Jose’s first road trip to Flushing: a single in 12 trips, no Runs/RBI/SB, 1 GIDP.

Nieuwenhuis was not in the Mets’ plans for the first half. Although he hit .298/.403/.505 at AAA last year, injuries limited him to 53 games. He was called up when CF Andres Torres aggravated a calf injury on Opening Day, and has played in every game since. And he’s had a knack for being involved in key plays, for good and for ill.

He had two hits in his debut, and in his second start hit a tying 2-run HR. Last Friday, he answered a blast by ex-Mets CF Angel Pagan by drilling one to the opposite field off Barry Zito, his first off a lefty, then made a terrific catch that ended in a warning-track face plant.

Last Saturday, he almost cost the Mets a win by overrunning a wind-blown popup behind 2B that let in the tying runs with 2 out in the 9th. In the bottom half, it was his grounder that ended in Buster Posey’s wild throw trying to complete a DP, letting in the winning run.

In the Miami series opener Tuesday, Nieuwenhuis gave the Mets early momentum by taking away extra-bases from Jose Reyes leading off the game. Although he struck out three times against Josh Johnson in that game, he also started the decisive rally in the 8th with a hit and eventually scored the winning run. On Wednesday, he reached on a HBP in front of David Wright’s turnaround HR.

The California-born Nieuwenhuis began Thursday with the third-best season WPA among Mets hitters (.513), a number that will rise with today’s heroics. His updated slash line reads .333/.403/.517 in 55 PAs, and his .920 OPS ranks 3rd among first- and second-year players with 30+ PAs.

The Mets have only had one home-grown center fielder who was really good for a period of years — another SoCal boy, Lenny Dykstra* — and he was gone before he hit his prime. And they haven’t had a Rookie of the Year since Dwight Gooden in ’84. It’s too soon to know if Kirk Nieuwenhuis is the next big thing; let’s see how he deals with his first slump. But the time is right, the door is open, and the Big Apple is right there for the grabbing.

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* Hey, I love Mookie, but his 6-year prime averaged 2.7 WAR. Maz had 3 good years, but he was done as a regular by age 26.

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