NEW YORK -- When Francisco Lindor’s father, Miguel, played baseball, he wore uniform No. 21, as did so many around Puerto Rico who revered Roberto Clemente. Lindor’s older brother wore the inverse, No. 12, just like Puerto Rican star Roberto Alomar. Growing up idolizing all of them, Lindor chose No. 12 for himself when his playing career began.
On Thursday afternoon, Lindor pointed at the No. 21 jersey hanging in his locker and called it “special” to flip the digits affixed to the back of it for one game. Every uniformed member of the Mets and Pirates wore No. 21 for Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Day celebration at Citi Field, as did dozens of others around the country.
For Lindor, who grew up hearing Clemente’s name in school, this was more than a token gesture. This harkened back to his earliest days, when he learned about his homeland -- lessons regarding the political history of Puerto Rico, about the indigenous indios Taíno, and of course about Clemente. So it was impactful for Lindor to homer in the third inning of the Mets’ 7-1 win over Clemente’s former team, the Pirates, snapping New York's three-game losing streak.
“I know that meant a lot to him,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s just been a rock for us in so many ways.”
Batting in a one-run game in the third, Lindor launched a two-run homer into the second deck in right field, just inside the foul pole. It was Lindor’s 24th of the season, breaking a tie with Asdrúbal Cabrera for the most home runs in a single season by a Mets shortstop. Lindor already holds the associated RBI record, which he extended to 94, giving him a chance to become the first Mets shortstop to reach triple digits in that category. And he chose an appropriate night for all of it.
“It’s great, a day like today that we are remembering him and honoring him, that I was able to do one of the many things he did,” Lindor said of Clemente.
Beyond the day’s festivities, the Mets simply needed a win; that was clear after they suffered their first three-game series sweep earlier in the week against the Cubs. They required a fine pitching performance, which Carlos Carrasco provided with 11 strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball. But they also needed the type of offensive outburst that has eluded them for much of September.
Daniel Vogelbach did his part with a two-run double and an RBI single, Mark Vientos added an RBI on his first career hit, and Lindor accomplished most of the rest. That’s not unusual for the shortstop, whose salary and streakiness at the plate have sometimes disguised the fact that he leads the Mets in both bWAR and fWAR. Lindor has been one of the most important engines of this Mets team on multiple fronts.
On the field, Lindor is enjoying a much-improved campaign from a year ago. Off it, he has become the Mets’ unofficial spokesman. Perpetually available to opine on any topic, Lindor is the player most willing to break down losses and answer difficult questions. He is a constant presence at his locker. On Thursday, he wore a microphone for an inning of FOX’s broadcast, diving mid-interview at one point in an attempted pursuit of a single.
Of course he was asked about Clemente during that segment; as one of four Puerto Rican-born players on the Mets, Lindor has always revered him. Before the game, when Showalter told Lindor he was considering giving him a DH day, the shortstop asked his manager to reconsider. Lindor wanted to be on the field for this version of the event, 50 years after Clemente’s final Major League season, in part because MLB invited 14 past winners of the Clemente Award -- the league’s highest philanthropic honor -- to take part in a pregame ceremony. Among them were retired Puerto Rican stars Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltrán, whom Lindor grew up watching on television.
Some hours after that observance, Lindor homered to highlight the Mets’ much-needed win. He is batting .333 with six extra-base hits over his past eight games, offering a hint at what the final three weeks of the season could entail for the Mets and one of their most important players.
“When he’s on fire, he can get whatever he wants, man,” Carrasco said. “That’s what he wanted today.”