NEW YORK -- It was a rat. It was a raccoon. It was a possum. It was whatever. At the end of this saga, as various Mets types stressed both late Friday night and Saturday afternoon, the sideshow matters far less than the result.
To that end, who knew rodents could be so galvanizing? A day after Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil insisted that their clubhouse kerfuffle was about nothing more than the identity of a four-legged clubhouse visitor, it was of course those two who played the most significant roles in the Mets’ 4-2 victory over the D-backs at Citi Field on Saturday. McNeil cracked a two-run homer, stole a base and scored two runs, while Lindor reached base three times, swiped a bag, scored a run and drove home another.
“Everything that happens here is just an opportunity for us to get better,” manager Luis Rojas said. “The disagreements and the agreements that we have as a family, it’s going to make us a better family. It’s going to make us a better team. Both of them did special things tonight.”
Since creating a commotion in the clubhouse tunnel during the seventh inning of Friday’s game, Lindor and McNeil have combined to go 5-for-11 with a walk, two home runs, four runs scored, two steals and five RBIs, accounting for nearly all of New York’s offense.
“It’s been fantastic playing with him,” McNeil said of Lindor. “I hope to do so for a long time. He’s going to be here for a while, so hopefully I can do the same and we can have a great up-the-middle combo for years to come.”
Behind Lindor and McNeil on Saturday, the Mets steadily backed a quintet of pitchers with enough run support to win their fourth straight game. Tommy Hunter started and threw two scoreless innings, before Joey Lucchesi and Jeurys Familia combined to allow just one unearned run over five more in relief, with Trevor May picking up his first save.
All the while, McNeil and Lindor raked.
In a scoreless game in the third inning, McNeil's line-drive two-run homer gave the Mets a lead that they would not relinquish. Lindor followed with a run of his own creation: a walk, his 100th career stolen base and a scramble home on catcher Carson Kelly’s two-base throwing error.
The Mets didn’t score again until the seventh, when McNeil reached on a fielder’s choice, stole his first base since Sept. 11, 2019, then scored on Lindor’s bloop single.
“They were kind of like the spark plug of our offense,” Rojas said.
Their timing couldn’t have been much better. Before Saturday’s game, Mets general manager Zack Scott said that he wished Lindor and McNeil had answered questions about the episode differently, owning up to whatever happened in the clubhouse instead of concocting a story about a furry creature.
“No one with the organization would make the recommendation to handle it that way,” Scott said.
But once the rat was out of the bag, at least some within the organization leaned into the plot. On the Citi Field scoreboard before the game, an in-game host corralled contestants for a game of “Rat or Racoon?” in which fans had to decide if various fun facts described one or the other. (The kicker, of course, was a trick question: the answer was “possum.”)
In that manner, Lindor and McNeil created a multi-day story that fans talked about incessantly, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed with the way that it came about. Rather than shy away from a potential negative plotline, Lindor and McNeil changed its shape, spun it around and turned it into something entirely different. Then they went out and backed up their bravado with improved play on the field.
“It almost felt like jumping a hurdle,” May said. “This is a team that had a lot of expectations coming into spring, and to be straight up with you guys, the core -- the guys that are going to win us games over a long season, win a championship here -- are generally, in terms of experience, young. And so that transition into a team that walks into a clubhouse expecting to win every day is happening. Guys are growing and you can see it on a day-to-day basis.”
As that process takes place, May continued, adversity will continue to surface along with it. What’s really happening behind closed doors with this team, both in this instance and others, may never fully enter the public domain.
Even so, all indications are that McNeil and Lindor have put their spat in the past. As the former began his postgame press conference Saturday night, the latter barged into the room, wrapped his teammate in a hug, yelled, “Hell yeah, baby,” then turned to the camera.
“It was a ratcoon!” Lindor called out as McNeil started laughing. “A ratcoon.”
Consider the debate settled then, the argument complete. Lindor, McNeil and the Mets have moved on.