Lindor has last word after benches clear

September 13th, 2021

NEW YORK -- This time, turned to his own dugout, flexing his right biceps in exaggerated fashion. Lindor readjusted his helmet, put his head down and jogged around the bases, for a brief moment understating the impact of what he had just achieved. It was not until he neared home plate that Lindor offered another show of braggadocio, tapping his chest twice before pointing to the crowd, flexing again, then embracing Michael Conforto in a bear hug.

Lindor had not only just completed one of the rarer feats in Mets history, homering three times in the team’s 7-6 win over the Yankees on Sunday, but he had done so barely half an hour after he and Giancarlo Stanton sparked a benches-clearing incident at Citi Field.

Within that context -- within any context -- the performance was easily the most impactful of Lindor’s five-plus months as a Met.

“This is the Francisco we all expect,” manager Luis Rojas said. “This is the Francisco that Mets fans are going to get for years.”

“I don’t think Mets fans forget things,” Lindor added, “but it definitely probably helped them to start to believe in me a little bit more.”

Until late Sunday evening, Lindor’s Mets career had been defined by rats, raccoons, a $341 million contract extension, a massive early-season slump and, most recently, a “thumbs-down” scandal that only increased the volume of boos raining down upon him.

Then came Sunday -- a game the Mets badly needed to win to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. Lindor began his opus with a go-ahead, three-run homer in the second inning off Clarke Schmidt, before adding a second homer in the sixth to become the 11th player in franchise history to go deep from both sides of the plate.

Next came drama. As he rounded the bases following his second homer, Lindor made an emphatic whistling gesture toward the Yankees dugout -- a clear reference to rumors that Yankees players had whistled throughout the weekend in an apparent effort to signal pitch types to their hitters. Although Lindor admitted after the game that he believed “something out of the ordinary was going on,” he stopped short of accusing the Yankees outright of a transgression.

It just “felt that way,” as Lindor put it, “and I took that personal.”

So, apparently, did Stanton, who responded with a game-tying, two-run homer in the seventh, then nearly came to a complete stop in front of Lindor on his trip around the bases. When Stanton began shouting in the shortstop’s direction, Lindor and Javier Báez opened and closed their hands as if to say: “Keep talking.” Lindor again made a whistling gesture, this time at Stanton, which is when both dugouts and bullpens emptied. Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner added spice by flashing a thumbs-down sign at Lindor. Umpires issued warnings to both benches.

“You guys saw Lindor when he went around the bases,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We gave a little bit back. Boys will be boys.”

Stanton offered a different explanation, saying he believed Lindor was directing his ire at pitcher Wandy Peralta, who was “whistling and being loud in the dugout the first couple innings.” But Lindor never even acknowledged Peralta’s role in the disturbance, noting only that he believed the Yankees were whistling to try to identify Taijuan Walker’s pitches during Saturday’s loss.

“I’m not accusing them of doing those things,” Lindor said. “I’m saying I heard what I heard. I’m not saying I’m 100 percent. That inning that I heard the whistling, they did put up a couple runs and it felt a little odd.”

Whatever had occurred earlier in the weekend, it was clear by the seventh inning Sunday that the Mets and Yankees -- barely 24 hours removed from embracing on the field during a Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony -- were upset with one another. “But at the end of the day,” Stanton said, “talk is cheap. The talk is out of the field, getting it done.”

That is precisely what Lindor did in the eighth, crushing a go-ahead, solo homer off Chad Green to give the Mets the lead for good. Following Lindor’s emotional trip around the bases, Edwin Díaz navigated his way through a rally in the ninth, jamming Stanton on a popup to end the game.

Fittingly, the ball nestled into Lindor’s glove -- “a big relief,” as he put it.

For Lindor, the game itself was a four-hour, six-minute exhale, allowing him to shed much of the detritus from a 106-game run that saw him bat .222/.317/.380, spend significant time on the injured list, endure boos when healthy, and otherwise do little of what Mets fans expected when the team signed him to a mega-extension back in March. Rojas called Sunday “probably his best game of the year,” while Lindor’s longtime teammate in Cleveland, Carlos Carrasco, clarified that it was one of the best games of his career.

That’s not exactly a groundbreaking sentiment, considering it was Lindor’s first three-homer game. But it was nonetheless the type of night the shortstop so badly needed.

“I’ve been booed for a very long time, so it felt good,” Lindor said. “How long I’ve been waiting for that? I don’t know. Every night when we’ve been down by one in the ninth, and I’m supposed to tie it or win the game for the team. Yeah, we all want that moment, because we do it for the fans and we do it for the organization.”

Consider the victory Lindor’s coming-out party, allowing the Mets to win the season Subway Series for just the fourth time in 25 years. If he has his way, it will also be the first of many. Asked afterward if he finally felt like a true New Yorker, Lindor quipped: “A New Yorker? I don’t have the accent yet.”

He smiled, before adding: “I feel like I’m a Mets player. I’ve been feeling like that for a while.”