Rookie walk-off specialist makes MLB history

May 12th, 2021

NEW YORK -- The maestro of the walk-off fielder’s choice stands 6-foot-3, wears glasses in the batter’s box and sports an untamed, scraggly brown beard that reaches the upper part of his chest. Standing in the Mets’ clubhouse following his latest opus, Patrick Mazeika stared unsmiling at a cellphone camera, shirtless, the residue of an egg-and-baby-powder mixture still plastered on his skin.

Mazeika may not have invented the walk-off fielder’s choice, but he has perfected it, on Tuesday becoming the first player to notch two walk-off RBIs in his first four career games since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920. He also became the first MLB player in the past 100 years to record multiple walk-off RBIs before his first career hit. The average exit velocity of those two ground balls would not break the speed limit on I-95. The average distance from bat to turf was five-and-a-half feet.

His latest game-winner was a grounder to first that traveled just slowly enough for Jonathan Villar to race home with the winning run in the Mets’ 3-2 comeback win over the Orioles at Citi Field.

In a replay of his walk-off swinging bunt last Friday, Mazeika’s teammates ripped off his jersey as they mobbed him on the field.

“He’s a savage,” said teammate Dominic Smith.

Winners of six in a row, the Mets -- and their unlikely secret weapon -- are increasingly starting to expect this sort of late-inning drama. Tuesday, Kevin Pillar led off the bottom of the ninth with a long drive that umpires initially ruled a game-tying homer, before conferring and concluding that the ball went just foul. But Pillar and Villar both singled, and with one out, Smith hit a game-tying single. That brought up Mazeika, who hit a 64.9 mph ground ball to first. Playing on the lip of the infield grass, Trey Mancini fired home as Villar raced to the plate, but Pedro Severino could not apply the tag in time.

The walk-off came four days after Mazeika beat the D-backs on an even unlikelier play, hitting a grounder to an area in front of home plate where no one could make a play on it. In between, Mazeika drew a bases-loaded walk in a different game against the D-backs, making him the first Major League player since Cincinnati’s Joe Brovia in 1955 to record three RBI before notching his first career hit.

“Mazeika, just knowing him from the past, he’s known for taking quality at-bats,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “And that’s what he’s done every time he’s up there, right? He’s put the ball in play.”

Mazeika is the first to admit that his swings may not be pretty, even if they belie a hitting ability that made Mazeika a somewhat unexpected addition to the Mets’ 40-man roster late last summer. A former eighth-round Draft pick and career .278 hitter as a professional, Mazeika spent five seasons in the Minors and one at the Mets’ alternate site before earning his first call-up in August, which resulted in a few days on the dugout bench but zero game action.

That changed earlier this month when injuries struck New York’s lineup and rotation at the same time. Wanting to fill in the gaps on their bench without sacrificing pitching depth, the Mets recalled Mazeika in large part because he was already on their 40-man roster. Then the game came to him. Almost immediately upon adding Mazeika to the team, the Mets began playing a series of close contests that required them to empty their bench.

That is how Mazeika found himself in the batter’s box with the game on the line last Friday, and again in a similar spot on Tuesday.

“They’re both pretty exciting,” Mazeika said. “It’s hard to [say] which one’s better. … Tonight, probably. It’s keeping things going, and we’ve been playing really good baseball.”

Indeed, the Mets have thrived over the past week, though they were in danger of losing Tuesday’s game despite a strong start from Marcus Stroman, who appeared irritated when Rojas removed him with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. Pat Valaika’s ensuing sacrifice fly brought home the game’s first run, and the Mets entered the ninth inning trailing by one, until Smith’s RBI single brought Mazeika to the plate.

Until last week, Mazeika was perhaps best-known for being one of Jacob deGrom’s offseason catchers. The two both attended Stetson University and still live nearby in Florida, making them natural acquaintances. But just as deGrom has become known for far more than his roots, Mazeika is now building a story of his own. Following his first walk-off fielder’s choice, in which the Mets ripped his shirt off once again, his phone blew up with messages from friends and fans, “just laughing at how bad of a swing I [had]” and “making fun of how white I am.”

Following this one, reliever Jacob Barnes was among those to greet Mazeika in the clubhouse with a light-hearted jab: “Are we trending up?” Barnes asked him. “Did you hit that one any harder?”

Doubtless, plenty of similar messages awaited Mazeika late Tuesday evening, after he posted a shirtless picture on Twitter with the caption: “Part 2.” Two weak ground balls. Two RBI. Two walk-off wins, and a batting average of .000.

Mazeika laughed when he considered the unlikelihood of it all.

“Hopefully,” he said, “Part 3 ends with a hit.”