There's Mets magic in Lindor's walk-off winner

Shortstop delivers in 10th against his former club after Alonso's tying slam in 7th

May 20th, 2023

NEW YORK --  spent nearly a full decade in the Guardians’ organization. Cleveland drafted him, developed him, gave him his first platform to shine.

When it came time to trade Lindor, the mid-market Guardians were honest with him about the situation. To this day, Lindor harbors “a lot of respect for everyone” in Cleveland.

But when Lindor stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning at Citi Field on Friday night with a game in the balance, he pushed those softer feelings out of his mind.

“It’s emotional to do it against anybody,” Lindor said after hitting a walk-off single against Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase, giving the Mets a 10-9 victory for their third consecutive win. “But yeah, I wanted to win that game. One hundred percent, I wanted to win the game in that situation there. And I wanted it to be me.”

The fact that Lindor was even at the plate against his old team in the 10th, he said, was due to “the way God works.” Certainly, the Mets had umpteen chances to win it before Lindor came to bat, thanks in large part to Pete Alonso’s game-tying grand slam in the seventh.

Certainly, the Guardians had their share as well, on a night that featured comebacks by both clubs. When the Mets opened the bottom of the 10th trailing by two runs, Lindor was due up seventh. There was a distinct chance he would never put a bat in his hand.

Then a bit of magic happened -- the type that occurred so frequently at Citi Field last summer during a 101-win season, that was largely absent over the first six weeks of this campaign, but that has begun to resurface over the past week.

On Wednesday, the Mets rallied for three runs in the 10th to beat the Rays in dramatic, walk-off fashion. On Thursday, they came from behind to win again. So it was little surprise to any of them that Friday’s 10th inning would unfold the way it did.

“After getting punched in the mouth,” Alonso said, “I feel like we’re finding an extra level.”

It began with one out, when Mark Vientos -- a member of the so-called “Baby Mets” who have sparked the team frequently over the last week -- singled up the middle to plate automatic runner Brett Baty. Two batters later, after pinch-runner Eduardo Escobar made a bold steal of second, fellow rookie Francisco Álvarez fought off a two-strike slider for the game-tying hit.

Brandon Nimmo followed with an infield single to put runners on the corners and bring up Lindor, whose season has been difficult to quantify. For much of the year, Lindor’s power production has resembled his typical levels. His defense and baserunning have been good enough to place him among the National League’s most valuable players in terms of WAR.

But Lindor’s batting average and on-base rate remain far below his norms, lending credence to the notion that his production has been insufficient. Until Friday, he had lacked a signature moment.

That, more than any sort of emotion about his old team, is why Lindor burned so badly to come through with a walk-off. As Lindor prepared to bat, hitting coach Jeremy Barnes told him to “get something in the middle and try to put it in the second deck.” Teammate Daniel Vogelbach, who had struck out earlier in the 10th, told him how Clase’s ball was moving.

Armed with those dual nuggets of encouragement and information, Lindor attacked the first pitch he saw -- a 99-mph cutter on the inner half of the plate -- and pulled it into right-center field for the walk-off.

“You’re starting to feel the guys are expecting something good to happen instead of something the other way,” manager Buck Showalter said. “They’ve had enough of the other side. It’s time they get some in return.”

Although Lindor didn’t check his phone immediately after the game, he assumed Guardians manager Terry Francona had already texted him. The night was also a reunion for starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, Lindor’s longtime Cleveland teammate, who came to the Mets in the same six-player trade in 2021.

Carrasco, who allowed five runs in his return from the injured list, downplayed any irregular emotions. So did Lindor, to an extent.

Neither man feels a particular pull to the Guardians, having long since closed that chapter of their lives. The tug they felt Friday was something more recent -- that of a Mets team capable of doing improbable things.

“It’s winning games,” Lindor said. “That’s what counts and that’s what matters. It could be anybody on the other side.”