This is the Lindor Mets fans were expecting

June 7th, 2021

No one would suggest that Francisco Lindor is in the clear now, not with his batting average still at .218 as he ends the first week of June. But what we have seen recently, after his nightmare beginning to his career in New York, is that he is like a tough fighter slowly getting back up after getting knocked down. Because Lindor has gotten back up, maybe if only to one knee for now.

Lindor signed the biggest contract in the history of the Mets and one of the biggest in baseball history after New York acquired him in a trade with Cleveland. And then this is where the guy known as Mr. Smile was through games of May 5 for his new team, according to the great John Labombarda of the Elias Sports Bureau, where they know everything:

Lindor was batting .157. He had a .276 on-base percentage, which means just slightly higher than the one you and I had at the time. He had two extra-base hits. He had a slugging percentage of .202. He had played 24 games for the Mets at that point and had a grand total of three RBIs. He had one home run. Going into the games of May 6, he was working on an 0-for-26 streak, the second longest slump of his career.

But before an 0-for-4 in the Mets’ win against the Padres on Sunday, Lindor hit .280 in his previous 26 games, with a .342 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .480. He had 11 extra-base hits in those games, four homers, 10 RBIs.

It means Lindor has started to show New York who he always was in Cleveland, and why the Mets wanted him as badly as they did and gave him the money they did. And they wanted him as badly as they did because he might be as talented a player as they have ever had.

“I’m very encouraged,” Lindor said the other day about the way he had been swinging the bat on the Mets’ seven-game road trip through Phoenix and San Diego. “I feel good. I finally have some success on my side. Hopefully, I continue this to help the team win.”

Then he said, “And when I get home, maybe I don’t get booed.”

Lindor is not the first player new to New York to hear boos as part of his introduction to the city. Yankee fans remember what it was like when Tino Martinez replaced the retired Don Mattingly in 1996 at first base, and Tino was slumping early. He went through an 0-for-16 slump and heard it, but good, from the fans at the old Yankee Stadium.

“I’m not worried,” his manager, the great Joe Torre, said at the time, “unless Tino is worried.”

Martinez himself said this: “I wanted to get off to a good start, and I’m pressing. Fans would probably boo me wherever I was playing, so I can’t say the New York fans are getting to me. I haven’t done anything worth cheering about.”

Martinez ended up hitting 25 home runs that season, led the Yankees with 117 RBIs, and the Yankees won the first of four World Series in five years with him at first base. He would knock in more than 100 runs five times in the next six seasons for Torre’s Yankees.

Lindor just goes on the list of players who have signed contracts of $300 million or more recently who have played to less than their own high standards so far this season. Bryce Harper has battled injuries with the Phillies, has played just 40 games, has hit only seven homers so far. Manny Machado is hitting .232 for the Padres. Giancarlo Stanton, who has heard boos of his own at Yankee Stadium, didn’t even start Sunday night’s game against the Red Sox as he comes back from his latest injury (quad strain), has hit nine homers this season and has slumped down to .252.

Mookie Betts is hitting .258 for the Dodgers. Mike Trout, with the biggest contract of them all and the best player in the game, is hitting .333, but likely out through the All-Star Game at least because of a calf injury. So it’s not as if Lindor is alone with his own struggles in the first-class section of Major League Baseball.

But the good news for Lindor is that he still has 100 more games to play, the way they all do, and to define himself in his first season playing at Citi Field. The even better news is that despite his struggles and all the injuries that the Mets have suffered -- including the right-side soreness that briefly sat down Jacob deGrom -- the Mets come into this week in first place in the National League East, with the only winning record in the division.

No one would suggest that Lindor is in the clear now because he has had a good month. But it came after one of the worst months of his big league career. A career .281 hitter is still only at .218. But that’s nearly 70 points higher this month than it was last month. Old Broadway song that covers this one. Not where you start. Where you finish.