Hours later the news was far more optimistic. Both an MRI and an X-ray on McNeil's left knee came back negative. He has only a bone contusion and should avoid the injured list, according to manager Luis Rojas.
“He’s a fearless competitor,” said teammate Dominic Smith. “Obviously, you don’t want to see a guy go down, but I love it. I just love how hard he plays.”
Racing back to corral Asdrúbal Cabrera's fly ball to the warning track with two men on base, McNeil caught the ball fractions of a second before hitting the fence. He immediately fell to the dirt, where he remained as a member of the Mets’ training staff jogged out to meet him.
Following a lengthy discussion, McNeil attempted to walk back to the dugout under his own power, but he was unable to do so. Billy Hamilton pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the inning.
“My first reaction was that it was a hell of a catch and it got us out of that tight jam,” starting pitcher David Peterson said. “Once he was down for a while, guys were kind of starting to be like, ‘OK, something might be wrong.’”
Rojas dismissed any concern that McNeil might have sustained a head injury, saying the discomfort is localized in his left knee. McNeil was not available for comment after the game, though he was in the building.
The Mets’ batting leader and a first-time All-Star last season, McNeil was hitting .293 in 17 games entering Thursday. He began the year as the third baseman but subsequently switched positions with J.D. Davis.
Should McNeil miss even a few games, both Davis and Smith are capable of playing left field. So is Brandon Nimmo, on days when Hamilton plays center. One factor will be whether Robinson Canó can come off the injured list when eligible on Friday; if so, Canó could potentially start at designated hitter, with Andrés Giménez at second base, Davis at third and Smith in left.
Those decisions will come only after the Mets re-evaluate McNeil on Friday.
Immediately after Thursday’s game, McNeil was “very encouraged about getting the results from the X-ray,” according to Rojas, while the Mets were busy buzzing about the quality of the catch. It was emblematic of McNeil, who earned his college nickname “Flying Squirrel” in large part because of his tendency to leap, dive and play with reckless abandon.
“It just makes us want to play harder,” Smith said. “That type of energy that he brings, it’s just kind of contagious. It just makes us want to play harder for each other. Obviously, it sucks that he went down, but it just goes to show how hard we go out there and play and how fearless he is.”