Last year long gone, Lindor fuels series win over Braves

July 13th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Combined, Max Scherzer and Francisco Lindor take up nearly half a billion dollars on the Mets’ balance sheet. Scherzer is the highest-paid player per annum in Major League history. Lindor owns the largest contract ever for a shortstop.

The Mets’ commitments to both were examples of their new model under Steve Cohen, who upon buying the team in November 2020 proclaimed his hope of winning a World Series within “3-5 years.” Of course, the road to a Series currently goes through Atlanta, where the Braves are defending champions. So it was an encouraging sign for the Mets to see their two highest-paid imports star this week in a series victory over the Braves.

Monday, it was Scherzer who not only dominated, but spoke afterward about teaching his teammates how to embrace a hostile environment. Wednesday, it was Lindor who hit a three-run homer and made an important defensive impact on the Mets’ 7-3, series-clinching win at Truist Park.

“I’m happy I’m contributing to the team,” Lindor said. “I came here to win ballgames. However, we’re still not done with that.”

Lindor’s shot off Charlie Morton in the third inning not only provided the Mets with an early four-run advantage, but also gave the shortstop 64 RBIs -- one more than he amassed all last season. Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha homered as well for the Mets, who improved to 12-3 in the deciding games of a series.

“That’s the most important thing, winning games,” Lindor said. “I don’t necessarily see it as, ‘They’re the Atlanta Braves, and we have to beat them to send a statement.’ No. They’re a big league team, and we have to beat them so that we can come up with ‘W’s.”

Lindor is allowing the Mets to do so more efficiently. This time last year, the shortstop was batting .225 with a .698 OPS and 36 RBIs, while nursing a sore oblique that would soon land him on the injured list for nearly six weeks. His 10-year, $341 million extension hadn’t even kicked in yet for the Mets, who found themselves unable to pull away from the Braves in the NL East. In large part because of that, Atlanta became an aggressive buyer at the Trade Deadline, acquiring Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and several other pieces that helped them springboard past the Mets en route to the World Series title.

This year, the situation has changed. Despite a slow start, Lindor walked off the field on Wednesday batting .244 with a .750 OPS and 64 RBIs, with a notable chunk of that damage occurring over the last few weeks. Since the start of July, Lindor owns an .829 OPS. He is already closing in on his 2021 WAR total. In addition to driving home four of the Mets’ 12 runs in their series against the Braves, Lindor made a play deep in the hole to throw out Duvall in the fourth inning Wednesday, cutting short Atlanta’s most promising rally.

“He doesn’t change what he did last year, but it’s just more seeing the results of the work he put in,” said catcher Tomás Nido, who has known Lindor since both were children. “I’m happy for him that things are showing, and he’s doing what we all know he can do.”

So, too, are the Mets, even if public perception may be lagging behind. Nido admitted after Wednesday’s win that the Mets have noticed negative chatter from some corners of the fan base, quipping: “The vibe was everybody was freaking out outside of this clubhouse, so I'm sure it feels good for everybody to see that the season is not over.”

Inside the room, the Mets have tried to maintain a steadier keel, while also respecting the importance of this three-game series with the Braves (one they played without a third of their regular starting lineup, including All-Stars Starling Marte and Jeff McNeil). Scherzer spoke to that effect earlier this week, saying he’s been trying to show his less experienced teammates how to embrace these sorts of moments. The Mets did so Monday with Scherzer leading the way, and they repeated the trick Wednesday thanks in large part to Lindor.

Then they packed their bags and forgot about the Braves, knowing, as starting pitcher Chris Bassitt said, that “the biggest series will be the end of the year.”

“They’re a really good team,” Lindor said. “Whenever you beat a really good team, of course, it makes you [think], ‘All right, we are good. We are better than what we were thinking.’ That’s the mindset. But at the end of the day, they’re just another opponent.”