Escobar rallies Mets to walk-off, 1-game lead going to Atlanta

September 29th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Eduardo Escobar stood, jersey top unbuttoned, and raised both hands skyward. The Mets’ third baseman was delivering a postgame television interview on the lip of the grass at Citi Field, having just become the first player in franchise history to drive home all of his team’s runs and collect at least five RBIs in a walk-off win. He was asked about the Braves, the Mets’ next opponent.

“I want to make these people happy when we come back from the road,” Escobar told the crowd, beaming. “Let’s go!”

If anyone is qualified to fulfill that promise, it is Escobar, perhaps the most universally well-liked player in the clubhouse -- and one of the hottest hitters within those walls as well. Escobar’s offensive outburst Wednesday not only led the Mets to a 5-4 victory over the Marlins in 10 innings, but it also gave them a one-game lead heading into their most significant series in more than half a decade.

The Mets hold a tiebreaker over the Braves by virtue of their 9-7 head-to-head record, meaning they will win the National League East if they finish with the same record as them (so long as they aren’t swept this weekend, which would present a whole host of other issues). Escobar and the Mets can clinch the division title as soon as Sunday with a three-game sweep of their own.

Games remaining: 6
Standings update: First place, 1 game ahead of the Braves
Magic number to clinch the NL East: 6

“You try not to scoreboard watch, but where we are in the season, six games left, neck and neck with these guys, we’re in here watching it, too,” starting pitcher Taijuan Walker said. “Us winning the game, it’s huge.”

About 16 minutes before Escobar’s walk-off single, an initial wave of cheers began rippling through Citi as fans received alerts that the Braves had lost a walk-off of their own in Washington. Moments later, that information flashed on Citi Field’s center-field scoreboard, resulting in a louder roar from the crowd. On the mound, pitcher Drew Smith noticed the commotion and tried not to let the added pressure affect him.

It was a temporary shot of serotonin for fans and players alike, but it was only going to last if the Mets completed their own business with runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the 10th. Escobar, who had already hit a two-run homer in the seventh and singled home two additional runs in the eighth to tie the game, stepped to the plate as a left-handed batter and hit an opposite-field single into shallow left-center. As Francisco Lindor raced around third with the winning run, the Mets piled out of their dugout to celebrate.

“He’s a catalyst,” said Smith, who retired all three batters he faced to record the win. “He’s been great all year long.”

The truth is, Escobar hasn’t always been consistent. In May and June, he largely disappeared while working through mechanical issues at the ballpark and personal ones away from it. In August, Escobar battled injuries. But in September, Escobar has been dynamic, batting .330 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs. Among National League players, only Pete Alonso has driven home more runs this month.

Teammates consistently laud Escobar as one of the sport’s foremost gentlemen, a clubhouse leader and fun-spirited presence. On the road, he takes groups of teammates out for dinner. At Citi Field, he greets nearly everyone with a smile, a nod, a clap on the shoulder.

“He’s really fed off the support of his teammates and the organization,” manager Buck Showalter said. “To get a return for that, there’s a special bond. It’s something that plays long term.”

What the Mets are most interested in now, however, is the short term. If they’re able to take two of three from the Braves this weekend, they’ll give themselves a chance to clinch the division title as soon as Monday at Citi Field. Even if the Mets lose two of three, they’ll still be in control of their own destiny. Only an Atlanta sweep would knock the Mets out of the catbird seat in the NL East, as it would give the Braves both a two-game lead and the divisional tiebreaker with three to play.

To put the arithmetic aside, Wednesday’s win was massive, particularly in conjunction with the Braves loss that occurred 16 minutes earlier. Everything is now in front of the Mets for the taking.

“I knew right before that at-bat that they had lost,” Escobar said of his walk-off single, doing his best to understate the obvious. “It was important for us to get this game.”