Rat? Raccoon? Mets give wild tale for tension

May 8th, 2021

NEW YORK -- In the middle of the seventh inning Friday night at Citi Field, infielders Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil disappeared into the tunnel connecting the Mets’ dugout to their clubhouse. Moments later, a group of players and coaches -- apparently startled by something that happened in the corridor -- rushed down the steps to meet them.

Whatever occurred in those few seconds remains unclear, clouded further by a series of bizarre postgame interviews in which Lindor and McNeil explained that a rodent was responsible for the commotion. Lindor insisted that there was an animal in the tunnel, which he thought a rat and McNeil believed was a raccoon. McNeil clarified that he actually thought the animal was a possum, which made him angry. Manager Luis Rojas said he had no knowledge of the animal’s existence, let alone its species.

“[People] can believe whatever they want,” McNeil said. “We’re a tight-knit group. Everybody loves everybody. It’s just a great group of guys, a great clubhouse. We have a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of positivity between this group.”

Regardless of the clubhouse kerfuffle, Lindor and McNeil appeared to miscommunicate on the infield dirt when Nick Ahmed hit a grounder to shortstop in the top of the seventh. With McNeil shifted over to the second-base bag, he ranged close enough to Lindor that he needed to duck to avoid the shortstop’s throw. As a result, Lindor bounced the ball to first base, allowing Ahmed to reach on an infield single.

It was the second notable miscommunication this season for Lindor and McNeil, who also nearly collided on a hit up the middle during the Mets’ four-error game in Chicago last month.

Moments after Friday’s seventh-inning miscommunication, McNeil and Lindor stepped into the tunnel and commotion ensued. Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith were the first to charge down the dugout steps, followed by several other players and coaches. According to Lindor, they all wanted to see the animal down below -- though it’s worth noting that Smith publicly proclaimed his aversion to rodents during a 2018 trip to Boston, when a rat entered the visiting dugout at Fenway Park.

Once order was restored and the Mets returned to the field in the top of the eighth, Pete Alonso stopped McNeil to give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

Then Lindor and McNeil stuck to similar stories in their postgame video conferences.

“It was funny because I told him, I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve never seen a New York rat,'” Lindor said, laughing as he recanted the tale. “So, we went down sprinting about to go see a New York rat, and [McNeil] got mad at me. He was like, ‘No, it’s not a rat. It’s a raccoon.’ I’m like, ‘Hell no, man. It’s a damn rat. It’s a New York rat, man.’ I was just crazy because we were going back and forth debating if it was a rat or a raccoon. Crazy, man. Insane.”

“Like he said, a nice debate about a rat or a raccoon,” McNeil said. “To be honest, I actually thought it was a possum. Not a raccoon. A possum.”

Because media members are not allowed in the postgame clubhouse due to COVID-19 restrictions, the only players available to speak about the situation were Lindor, McNeil, starting pitcher David Peterson and pinch-hitter Patrick Mazeika, who hit a walk-off fielder’s choice in the Mets’ 5-4 win over the D-backs. Those players kept a united front, with several others -- including Marcus Stroman and Tomás Nido -- referencing the rat-raccoon debate on Twitter.

“If [Lindor] says it's a rat, then it's a rat,” former Mets pitcher Jerry Blevins wrote. “And every Met in that clubhouse will fight you if you don’t agree.”

The comments struck a similar tone to others from last week, when Pete Alonso went out of his way to laud a mythical hitting approach coach named “Donnie Stevenson.” Alonso’s Mets teammates quickly bought into the Donnie lore, printing up T-shirts and referencing him often in interviews.

But Rojas, whose job involves knowing as much as possible about each player in his clubhouse, said repeatedly that he had no knowledge of a rat, a raccoon, a possum, or any other four-legged creature wandering the bowels of Citi Field. Asked directly about the situation, Rojas shook his head and replied: “When I got down there to the tunnel, the only thing I can recall is Francisco telling me that we’re playing baseball, and we’re going to win this game.”

Lindor followed with a game-tying homer in the bottom of the seventh, which his manager stressed was the most important thing.

In Rojas’ view, none of this will matter so long as his double play partners maintain a strong relationship. Although Lindor and McNeil have yet to gel defensively, struggling to communicate on several recent plays (including an eighth-inning popup in which Lindor called off McNeil at the last moment), Rojas denied any concerns over their relationship. Lindor and McNeil echoed those comments, brushing aside talk that there might be a rift between them.

“I can bring him out and probably give him a kiss on the cheek if you guys want,” Lindor said.

The shortstop did not actually do so, and the truth of the matter will undoubtedly become clear over the coming weeks and months. If the Mets are harboring a secret, the New York fishbowl has a long history of making such things public.

If not, the Mets’ story will stand on its merits. Asked what happened to the critter that caused so much commotion, Lindor shrugged.

“Probably one of the grounds crew guys came and grabbed it,” he said. “I still don’t know if it was a rat or a raccoon.”