In a dreadful season marked by still more crippling injuries and some awful baseball, the Mets couldn't have imagined finding a winning lottery ticket in the middle of a sidewalk, as if it had somehow fallen right out of the sky.
Yet Jeff McNeil might just be that rare stroke of good luck this franchise desperately needs these days, if he proves to have staying power as a hit-machine second baseman - an unexpected gift from the baseball gods.
"If anybody says they saw this coming," Mets assistant GM J.P. Ricciardi was saying over the phone, "they're lying. He's been a total surprise."
Actually, McNeil himself begs to differ.
Amazed, yes. He admits his rapid rise from minor-league obscurity to major-league prominence has been a bit dizzying, in large part because he came into this season just hoping to get a chance to prove himself after two injury-plagued years had pushed him to the edge of prospect extinction, at age 26.
But surprised, no.
"I could always hit," McNeil says, speaking by phone from Philadelphia this week. "That's never been a problem."
It's hard to argue with a guy who was hitting .339, entering Wednesday's game against the Phillies, but to know his backstory is to understand how McNeil can say something like that so matter-of-factly, without sounding even a little bit presumptuous.
As a teenager in central California, after all, McNeil chose to play golf over baseball for the first three years of high school in California, believing he had a future on the PGA Tour, only to pivot when he didn't get the college offers he was expecting, and quickly earn a Division I baseball scholarship before he'd ever played a high school game.
"It's kind of been a magical ride for Jeff," says Vince Sagisi, a former Cleveland Indians' scout who helped facilitate McNeil's baseball scholarship. "He was discouraged he wasn't getting scholarship offers in golf, so he made his own road in baseball.
"It's really a tremendous story."
It starts with the ultra-elite hand-eye coordination it takes to be both a scratch golfer and someone who has made hitting in the big leagues look easy in his first try.
Indeed, even now McNeil gives the impression he believes he could be playing on the PGA Tour if he'd stuck with golf, noting that he played in many top amateur junior tournaments with the likes of Jordan Spieth and other future pros.
"A lot of people I played with are doing well on the PGA Tour now," McNeil said. "You never know what could have been."
At the time McNeil chose golf over baseball in part because he idolized Tiger Woods, in part because his circle of friends in Nipomo, Calif. all played golf, and also because the local high school had a much better golf team than baseball team.
"I wanted to be on a winning team and play golf with my buddies," McNeil explained.
However, when the college offers didn't materialize by the summer after his junior year, partly because McNeil didn't play as well as he'd hoped in a few key national events, he decided to go back to baseball, trying out for a club team coached by Sagisi, then a scout with the Indians.
"We called it a scout league," Sagisi explained by phone. "Major league teams in different areas of California sponsored teams of high school kids with pro and college potential, coached by scouts.
"Jeff's younger brother Ryan was already pitching for me. I didn't know much about Jeff, but it didn't take long to see that he stood out. One day an assistant coach from Cal State Northridge called me, looking for a middle infielder, and I said, 'You're going to think I'm crazy, but I've got a kid - he's a golfer who hasn't played high school baseball, but you should really come see him.' "
The coach came to a game and, as Sagisi tells the story, was so impressed that he offered McNeil a scholarship on the spot.
As it turned out, the Cal State Northridge staff was fired the next spring, while McNeil was playing his senior high school season, leading to a similar scenario the next summer that landed him at Long Beach State.
"The Long Beach State coach, Troy Buckley, had heard about Jeff," Sagisi said. "He came to see a game, and Jeff hit for the cycle that day, and it happened again - the coach made him an offer on the spot.
"That's why I say he's had a magical ride. He was a scrawny kid then, 6-1, maybe 150 pounds, but he had strong forearms and wrists, maybe from golf, and he just stood out as a good hitter. The rest is history, I guess."
The scrawny part is what kept McNeil from being drafted before the 12th round by the Mets in 2013, after three seasons at Long Beach State, and indeed while he hit for average in the low minors, he didn't show enough power to be considered a top prospect.
Then came the injuries: a torn labrum in his hip and a double-sports hernia in 2016, each requiring surgery, followed by a lengthy absence in 2017 due to a quadriceps strain. At that point doctors told McNeil he needed to strengthen his legs, and a workout regimen helped him add strength and weight, to the point where he's blossomed into a different hitter now at about 190 pounds.
"The work on my legs really helped me," McNeil said. "I knew if I got stronger, the power would come. I just needed to stay healthy. I also knew I had fallen behind (age-wise) and I needed to make something happen this year."
He's done that, all right; from the start this season Mets' people were astonished to see him driving the ball all over the ballpark with his newfound power. He hit 14 home runs in 57 games in Double-A Binghamton, and five more in 31 games in Triple-A Las Vegas - to go with 26 doubles and five triples in the minors.
Much of which has translated to the big leagues as well. As of Wednesday morning, McNeil has 17 extra-base hits, including three home runs in 53 games, and believes he'll hit more long balls as he continues to adjust to major-league pitching.
As such he has been a revelation, better defensively than expected as well, to the point where the Mets are becoming believers that he can be the everyday second baseman next season and beyond.
"He's really opened some eyes," Ricciardi said. "If he was just doing this in September, you might say, 'OK, it's just a hot month,' but he's been here since July. It isn't enough to anoint him, but it's enough that he's in our plans.
"He's got a great approach, a great ability to put the ball in play. He plays with an energy that you notice too. I think there's a direct correlation between him coming up and us playing better."
It's not just McNeil, to be sure, that has sparked something of a late-season revival for the Mets. Still, as of Wednesday afternoon, they are indeed 30-23 as of since he arrived on July 24th and started choking up on his odd-looking, knob-less bat, demonstrating a knack for putting the barrel on the ball that can't be taught.
Lucky for the Mets, then, that he gave up on being the next Tiger Woods, albeit reluctantly. Because now, seemingly out of nowhere, he looks like he could be their new Daniel Murphy.