Escobar changes belt, can't stop belting HRs

Infielder goes yard in all three games vs. Rangers

July 3rd, 2022

NEW YORK -- As Eduardo Escobar packed for the Mets’ road trip following their 4-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday at Citi Field, he placed an unusual number of cleats in his duffel bag bound for Cincinnati. As one of the clubhouse’s most superstitious players, Escobar will sometimes change shoes midway through a game if he feels he’s had unproductive at-bats.

So when Escobar fell into a 4-for-47 slump last month, he figured he needed to up the sartorial ante. Rather than focus on only his footwear, Escobar replaced his standard blue belt with a blue, red and yellow version decorated like the flag from his native Venezuela. He began wearing the belt on Friday night and homered. He wore it again on Saturday and homered. So of course Escobar stuck with the belt on Sunday afternoon, donning it as he went deep for a third consecutive game.

“You know me,” Escobar said. “I change my shoes, I change everything. I do it all my career. Now, my belt.”

Whatever it takes for the Mets to have their slugging third baseman back in prime form, they will take it. Since switching belts, Escobar is 4-for-11 with three homers (including shots from both sides of the plate) and six RBIs. By going deep in every game of a series for the second time in his career, Escobar became the first Mets player to homer in three consecutive games since Jeff McNeil two years ago.

“He’s just such a consistent human being, it’s surprising when you see him kind of go through some spells,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You hate to see good teammates, good competitors, good competitors struggle like that. It’s painful. But through thick and thin, he hasn’t changed effort.”

It was a redemptive series win for several Mets, including Carlos Carrasco (who rebounded from a string of poor starts to deliver 5 2/3 effective innings against the Rangers), McNeil (who snapped an 0-for-10 skid with an RBI double in the fourth) and James McCann (who recorded his first extra-base hit since April 26). But perhaps none of them needed it as much as Escobar, whose June swoon occurred amidst the first rumblings of calls for his playing time.

As Escobar struggled throughout the second half of June, fellow infielder Luis Guillorme thrived, all but forcing Showalter to write his name on the lineup card nearly every day. Mark Vientos, the organization's fifth-ranked prospect, was also (and still is) enjoying consistent success at Triple-A Syracuse, giving the Mets another potential avenue for change.

Through it all, Showalter consistently referred to the back of Escobar’s baseball card, often noting that “water finds its level.” For Escobar, that meant an inevitable return to the types of production he exhibited with Minnesota, Arizona and Milwaukee from 2017-21: an average of 27 homers with an OPS around .800 in each of his non-pandemic seasons.

When Escobar told Showalter and hitting coach Eric Chavez that his current struggles were mental, not physical, the two began showing him examples of slumps he had overcome in the past. Recently, Mets coaches relayed evidence that Escobar’s statistics were almost identical to those of Astros star Alex Bregman, who had emerged from his own quagmire in recent weeks.

If Bregman could do it, the message went, so too could Escobar.

“I’m proud of him,” McNeil said. “He’s doing some big things for us right now, putting some big swings on the ball. I’m just super happy for the guy and glad he’s breaking out.”

Around the Mets' clubhouse, Escobar is constantly telling teammates he’s proud of them, which is why McNeil chose that specific turn of phrase.

So well liked is Escobar that his fellow Mets felt it important to rally around him during his slump, knowing he would do the same for them.

“Everything is my mentality,” Escobar said. “It’s really hard when you’re struggling, when you’re thinking too much. No matter what you do in your life -- a player, a lawyer -- if you think too much, you’re going to struggle. … All I can control is what I can control -- working hard every day, coming here happy and playing hard.”

That, and his wardrobe, which Escobar will continue to tweak as his season ebbs and flows. Before zipping up his duffel bag following the win, Escobar packed his Venezuelan flag belt alongside several of his cleats. He’s pleased with that belt at the moment, given the production he believes it’s allowed him to achieve.

Then Escobar added his standard-issue blue belt to the duffel, just in case something changes again.