Terrance Gore stands by as the Mets’ designated runner

Baseball is a game of specialists. There are all-or-nothing sluggers, weak-hitting infielders who are skilled with their gloves, and left-handers who are expected to neutralize a few key players per game.

But as the Mets prepare for their wildcard streak against the San Diego Padres and a possible deep run in the postseason, they’re engaging with perhaps the most specialized player in the game: Terrance Gore, a fast veteran who’s officially an outfielder but spends most of the time on the base paths.

There is no other player like Gore. When he comes into play, everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to try to steal and his margin for error is zero. The appeal and downside are obvious: a stolen base can start a rally, while a caught theft can kill you.

This pressure does not bother Gore.

“Before it happens I can see it unraveling in front of me,” he said of the moment before being called to the pinch run. “I get nervous, but as soon as I take the first step of my lead, everything slows down.”

With his unique role, Gore has built a quirky resume full of the kinds of stat lines baseball nerds love to quote. He only has 16 career base hits, but he stole 43 bases. He has more game appearances (112) than plate appearances (85). This year, Gore has stolen three bases while scoring just one, a single one in Wednesday’s season finale.

Perhaps the most convincing statistic? Gore has three World Series championship rings, more than the rest of the 2022 Mets combined. On a multi-star team including Pete Alonso, Edwin Díaz and Jeff McNeil who have no postseason experience at all, Gore is a grizzled veteran, albeit with only one RBI career

Gore won his first World Series title in 2015 as a late-inning catalyst for the Kansas City Royals, who led the Mets in five games. He was later signed by the Cubs for their 2018 playoff run, and in that year’s wildcard game he stole a base and scored the deciding run, despite Chicago losing in extra innings.

The rest of the league took notes. Seeing Gore as someone who could provide a boost in hard-fought postseason games, he was signed by the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers en route to a title and the 2021 Atlanta Braves en route to theirs. In any case, he spent most of the year in the minors before being called up for September and October. He’s only occasionally called up, but his groundbreaking speed consistently earns him spots in the postseason.

Adding to Gore’s atypical career is that he’s only called up when his team is desperate. “As much as I want to get in the game, it might be good if you don’t see me,” he said. “If you see me it means I have to save the day or something.”

Gore has only played in parts of ten games for the Mets, but on September 18 they got a taste of his impact. In the eighth inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Gore was brought in as a pinch runner in a tie game for catcher Tomás Nido. Startled by Gore’s presence, Manny Bañuelos attempted three unsuccessful pickoffs in a row. On Bañuelos’ first place at home, Gore started second and slid in safely. Better yet, the catcher’s throw went wild into midfield, allowing Gore to get to third base from the error. Four pitches later, he hit the game-winning run on a bloop single.

The Mets dream of a similar postseason scenario, and if they do, it’s not just because of Gore’s speed, it’s because of his work ethic. Gore spends most of each game preparing for a big moment. He runs sprints in the tunnels under the stadium. He studies the opposing team’s relief pitchers, memorizing their pitching moves and looking for subtle clues as to whether they’re going to throw home first or attempt a pickoff. He believes this work can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Manager Buck Showalter, who ran against Gore’s Royals teams when he was with the Baltimore Orioles, was impressed with Gore’s intelligence and preparation.

“Before we approached him, I asked our triple-A guys if he just shows up and has a god-given ability. It’s much more than that. He’s smart. If you had those skills and knew you were going to play every October, you would do anything to maintain them, and he’s doing just that. He’s proud of that. He’s working on it and doesn’t want it to go away. You know, he’s not 23.”

While Gore is 31 — an age when many players are starting to see their speed dwindle — his skills could still shine next season thanks to new rules designed specifically to incentivize base-stealing more come into play.

Along with installing a pitch clock and banning the shift, Major League Baseball announced last month that pitchers would be limited to two pickoff attempts before having to put a ball on the plate — a setup that would make anyone like Gore would give an easy go-ahead to steal a base after pulling two throws. The bases also get larger, slightly reducing the distance between them while adding more surface area for a sliding player to grab in a tight game. Even the pitch clock, a key component of the league’s effort to speed up play, could allow base runners to time pitchers with more confidence.

These changes could see teams experimenting with making their rosters faster.

But Gore scoffs at the idea that any fast guy — think Herb Washington, an All-American sprinter signed by the Oakland A’s with mediocre success in 1974 — can learn the ins and outs of base-stealing overnight.

“I do a lot of homework,” he says. “You can’t just get a track guy and tell him to run the bases and see what happens. He might succeed a couple of times but his percentage won’t be good. You have to know the game. You have to know the pitches, the number of pitches, who’s batting, who’s playing first base.”

In Gore’s eyes, he’s not just a runner. He’s a baseball player and he’d love the opportunity to prove it again. He lit up at the mention of his 2019 season with the Royals, which saw him see some play time as an outfielder and hit .275 with a .362 percentage on base.

“Say those stats a little louder,” he said, laughing.

But at this stage in his life, Gore has accepted his role as a specialist.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ve had a great career. I wouldn’t change anything that happened.”