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McNeil makes ASG case in Mets' win over Cubs

Super-utility man homers, records 3 RBIs, makes key defensive play
@Russ_Dorsey1
June 21, 2019

CHICAGO -- The Mets have known what Jeff McNeil can do for almost a year now, and the rest of baseball is starting to learn, too. McNeil has been playing at a high level, and with his positional versatility, he has also given Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway more flexibility. “He

CHICAGO -- The Mets have known what Jeff McNeil can do for almost a year now, and the rest of baseball is starting to learn, too.

McNeil has been playing at a high level, and with his positional versatility, he has also given Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway more flexibility.

“He always says that he can play any position. He thinks he can go throw a shutout tonight,” Callaway said before the game. “That’s who he is.”

Box score

Callaway’s “Swiss Army knife” did everything except pitch a shutout in the Mets’ 5-4 win over the Cubs on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. With voting wrapping up today, it gave McNeil one more opportunity to show why he feels he should be in Cleveland for this year’s All-Star Game.

“It’s a dream of mine to play in the All-Star Game,” McNeil said. “I think I’ve done enough. I think I’ve been the best possible player I could be up to this point, playing multiple positions and doing it really well. I don’t think there’s much more I can do.”

Consider McNeil’s contributions to Friday’s victory in four acts:

Act I: McNeil the catalyst

Power is not part of McNeil’s arsenal, but when the Mets needed some thump to kickstart the offense, it wasn’t usual suspect Pete Alonso who flexed his muscles.

After working a 2-1 count against Cubs starter Yu Darvish, McNeil took advantage of a grooved fastball and launched it to the seats in right-center field to give the Mets an early 3-2 lead.

“He’s a great hitter,” starter Jason Vargas said. “A great hitter.”

Act II: McNeil the clutch

After a Michael Conforto solo homer tied the game in the sixth inning, who would be the man to drive in the winning run? You guessed it.

But after doing damage against right-handers, McNeil would have to face Cubs left-hander Mike Montgomery.

After battling to a 3-2 count, McNeil ripped the go-ahead RBI-single through the hole into right field, scoring Adeiny Hechavarria from second base and giving the Mets the late advantage. He’s now hitting .364 against left-handers this season.

“I’ve seen lefties really well this year and just trying to get a ball over the middle of the plate,” said McNeil. “Got to two strikes, kind of swung at a borderline pitch, but got enough barrel on it to find a hole.”

While McNeil was already finding a groove early in the season, hitting .333 over his first 46 games, he has taken his game to another level since returning from a strained left hamstring on June 4. He has hit .373 (24-for-67) over his past 16 games.

“It’s been tremendous. Day in and day out. Lefties. Righties. It doesn’t matter who’s pitching,” said Callaway. “Big, huge spots, he comes up [big]. They obviously brought that lefty in to make sure he didn’t get a hit, and he does the job. It’s unbelievable every night.”

Act III: McNeil the closer

While it was Edwin Díaz who came in to close out the Cubs in Friday’s victory, it was McNeil’s defensive encore that stopped Chicago’s rally late in the game and allowed Diaz to have a 1-2-3 ninth inning en route to his 16th save of the season.

After playing right field for the majority of the game, McNeil moved to left field for Dominic Smith to start the bottom of the eighth inning as the Mets shifted to their best defensive outfield with a 5-4 lead.

With one out in the inning, catcher Willson Contreras blooped a single right in front of McNeil. Anthony Rizzo, who singled earlier in the inning, got to second and made a wide turn before starting toward third.

But McNeil got to the ball quickly, forcing Rizzo to slam on the breaks between second and third. With just 150 feet of grass between them, McNeil sprinted toward Rizzo to keep him from advancing.

“That’s just my baseball instincts taking over there,” McNeil said. “Right when I picked my head up, I saw he was in no man's land. I gotta make him commit one way or another, because if I throw it to second, he goes right to third.”

Those instincts forced Rizzo into a rundown, and after a few throws, he was tagged out to end the inning and the Cubs’ threat.

Act IV: McNeil the All-Star?

There’s no way to tell if McNeil’s lengthy resume will get him on a stacked National League All-Star Game roster, but the super-utility man is starting to put together a lengthy resume and highlight reel.

After going 2-for-5 on Friday, McNeil now has a team-high 27 multi-hit games on the season, and he has multiple hits in his past four games.

“You can use the word ‘complete.’ You can use the word ‘All-Star,’” Callaway said. “I think that this guy is playing the type of baseball that you want everybody to play, and he’s definitely been an All-Star so far.

As for the shutout his manager joked about, McNeil feels it might be a stretch, but not by much.

“I don’t know,” McNeil chuckled. “I think I could pump some strikes.”

Russell Dorsey is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @Russ_Dorsey1.