Epic Mets walk-off starts party. Search party?

August 31st, 2021

NEW YORK -- A search party convened near home plate following the Mets’ walk-off, 6-5 win over the Marlins on Tuesday afternoon, in what was the resumption of an April 11 suspended game at Citi Field. Uniformed personnel joined team president Sandy Alderson, grounds-crew members, security guards and other team employees in dress clothes, all looking for a piece of jewelry that had lost in the ruckus at home plate.

Consider that an issue Báez was happy to endure. His dash around the bases, coming two days after his proclamation that he and other Mets players had decided to “boo” their own fans to combat negativity surrounding the team, transformed a potentially dispiriting loss into a walk-off victory.

“He’s here to win,” said outfielder , who put the final play in motion with an RBI single. “He’s here to be a big part of this team.”

Entering the ninth inning trailing by four runs, the Mets rallied closer when Brandon Nimmo hit a two-run homer, followed by a pair of two-out hits by Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso. That brought Báez to the plate with a chance to tie or win the game himself; instead, he sliced a ground-ball single to shortstop to draw the Mets within one.

Next up was Conforto, who laced what appeared to be a game-tying hit through the left side of the infield. But when left fielder Jorge Alfaro committed a fielding error, dropping the ball as he attempted to scoop it, Báez saw an opportunity. Already racing first-to-third on the play, Báez aggressively rounded third and slid into home, just barely beating Alfaro’s throw.

“As soon as he saw the hit,” manager Luis Rojas said, “I think instincts kicked in and no one was stopping him.”

“Javy being the hero on that, it’s just incredible,” added Conforto.

At home plate, Jonathan Villar and Francisco Lindor were the first to greet Báez, embracing him in a chaotic hug as the rest of his teammates raced over to join. Amid all the jostling, Báez lost an earring, which he briefly tried to find before delegating the task to others. Soon there was an army of players, front-office staffers and even members of the Mets’ analytics staff crawling around the grass on their hands and knees, risking grass stains on their khakis in an attempt to find the jewelry.

Anything for Báez, who has provided an uncommon jolt of energy since joining the Mets in a July 30 trade with the Cubs. Although Báez is batting just .222 in 18 games since joining the Mets, four of his 14 hits have been homers. He’s driven in eight runs, played sound defense at both up-the-middle infield positions and given the Mets the type of aggressive baserunning element they lacked throughout the first half of the season.

Of course, all those benefits have come with one major controversy: Báez’s weekend proclamation that he, Lindor and others were flashing thumbs-down signs after hits as a direct criticism of fans who were booing them. The story quickly became national news, with some opining that the Mets were waging war on their own fans. Tuesday morning, Báez and Lindor offered public apologies in the hopes that the story would disappear.

“Like I always say, I play for the fans and I love the fans,” Báez said. “And I know the fans in New York have a little passion for this team and this organization, so I have the most respect for them.”

What fans respect most of all, however, is winning. And so hours after making his apology, Báez did more for himself in a 270-foot sprint around the bases than he ever could have with words alone.

“We’ve got to keep winning,” Conforto said. “Winning is all we want. Winning is all the fans want. We’re all pulling in the same direction here. So I don’t know what one game was, but I can tell you that the guys wanted to win this one about as badly as any other game that we’ve played. In short, I think that winning cures everything.”