Monday, October 3 2022

WASHINGTON — It was supposed to be an emotional night, albeit one on an entirely different plane, in which Max Scherzer, perhaps the greatest pitcher of his generation, competed for the first time against teammates who helped make him a champion.

Instead, as is baseball’s wont, the narrative shifted and became a potentially galvanizing evening for the New York Mets and their struggling superstar shortstop, who just days earlier began a 13-year, $341 million contract with the club.

That money didn’t much matter Friday night when Francisco Lindor found himself face down in the dirt at Nationals Park, an 88-mph pitch drilling him in the cheek, somehow avoiding serious damage but leaving him stunned for the moment.

And when he looked up, a sea of blue charged to defend him.

Manager Buck Showalter led the charge, followed by on-deck batter Pete Alonso and a cadre of Mets disgusted they’d been hit four times in the first two games of this season against the Washington Nationals. Three of them – a Steve Cishek submarine ball that drilled Lindor, an Andres Machado up-and-in fastball that popped James McCann and a Mason Thompson pitch that struck Alonso in the face in Thursday’s opener – were undeniably dangerous and, momentarily, left the Mets fearing the worst.

And while these early-season, post-lockout games played in cold conditions with copious enforcement against sticky substances to grip the baseball left the Mets satisfied the drillings were not intentional, there was only so much a team could take.

So out they spilled, from dugout and on deck and far off in the left field bullpen, leaving Lindor feeling fortunate his honor was defended even before he could rise to his feet.

The Washington Nationals and New York Mets benches clear after shortstop Francisco Lindor was hit by a pitch during the fifth inning at Nationals Park.The Washington Nationals and New York Mets benches clear after shortstop Francisco Lindor was hit by a pitch during the fifth inning at Nationals Park.

The Washington Nationals and New York Mets benches clear after shortstop Francisco Lindor was hit by a pitch during the fifth inning at Nationals Park.

“I’m super proud to be a New York Met,” Lindor said after the Mets methodically won their second game in as many nights, 6-3 over the Nationals.

“I got hit, I was on the ground, I hear scuffles, I look up, the whole entire team is out there, the whole entire coaching staff is out there – Buck, (coach) Eric Chavez, (Robinson) Cano, Pete, everybody. You see the bullpen sprinting in. That’s just a lot. I appreciate that. It shows unity.”

Unity is one element immeasurable in a Mets team facing the biggest expectations since their 1986 squad backed up the bold proclamations of an imminent World Series title. This edition features a payroll exceeding $280 million thanks to second-year owner Steve Cohen, who in March 2021 traded for and extended Lindor and in November reeled in Scherzer with a $43.3 million annual salary.

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Yet it has not been easy for Lindor. The four-time All-Star has suffered through two consecutive subpar campaigns, the latter coming after Cohen guaranteed he’d be the highest-paid shortstop in the game, only to produce like a league-average hitter in 2021.

Worse yet, his participation in the “thumbs-down” on-base celebration with trade acquisition Javy Baez only laid bare his paltry production.

There’s still 160 games left in this, his second year in Queens. A mass showing that his teammates have his back will help.

And, for now, the knowledge he likely won’t miss any time after Cishek, a submarining veteran right-hander, yanked a pitch that struck Lindor in the face.

New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor covers his face after being hit by a pitch while manager Buck Showalter walks with him during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor covers his face after being hit by a pitch while manager Buck Showalter walks with him during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor covers his face after being hit by a pitch while manager Buck Showalter walks with him during the fifth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

Lindor and Cishek encountered each other during the game, as Lindor awaited X-rays that showed no fractures.

“He apologized,” Lindor said. “He said he was not trying to do it on purpose. As a man, I respect that.”

Cishek and Nationals coach Gary DiSarcina were ejected by crew chief Mark Carlson after the floating mass of humanity was broken up, both for exacerbating rather than cooling the situation, Carlson explained later to a pool reporter.

“I think they understood our frustration,” Showalter said of the umpiring crew. “(Lindor) is lucky. I don’t know how he didn’t have more damage.

“He’s lucky. It’s scary, initially, and then it’s times like that, the fourth (hit-by-pitch in two games), I don’t want to really hear about intent. Throwing up in there, those things can’t happen.”

Showalter paused a moment.

“Max didn’t have any trouble controlling the ball tonight.”

Indeed, the three-time Cy Young Award winner, pitching for the first time in 11 days after a hamstring hiccup imperiled his first turn through the Mets rotation, walked just one batter in six innings, against six strikeouts. He gave up just three hits and one of significant consequence, a second-deck homer to Josh Bell on a center-cut fastball in the fourth.

New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer delivers a pitch in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.

Bell was Scherzer’s teammate last year, when the Nationals traded Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July for two players who figured highly in Friday’s game – catcher Keibert Ruiz, who singled twice, and starting pitcher Josiah Gray.

That there was just one regular – the great Juan Soto – in the Nationals lineup who played a significant stint in D.C. with Scherzer took some luster off the debut. Still, he was feted with a video before Thursday’s opener and Friday night, as he climbed the mound, many in the crowd of 25,677 ignored the histrionics of the stadium’s in-game host on the video board to give their hero a standing ovation.

“A crazy, wild experience,” Scherzer said after recording the 191st victory of his career. “It’s almost good that this was the first one. Get this out of the way and keep marching forward.

“A lot of good memories, but this team is different. It’s not the same team I played with.”

Save for one guy. Soto emerged as a superstar in 2019, when Scherzer started the Nationals’ victorious Game 7 of the World Series. Mic-ed up by Apple TV before the game, Soto said it was “going to be fun to face him.”

The radar gun spoke on Scherzer’s behalf: He ran his fastball up to 95 mph in the third, two ticks above his velocity for the latter half of the Nationals order. And score this for Mad Max: He got Soto on fly balls to left and right field before walking Soto in the sixth.

No matter: Seconds later, DH Nelson Cruz was bouncing into a 6-4-3 double play. And Scherzer would get his first win as a Met, this after distinguishing himself in Arizona, Detroit and Washington.

It’s possible he joined a juggernaut. Starling Marte, guaranteed $78 million just days before Scherzer signed with the Mets, got him off the hook with an RBI single that finished Gray in the fifth, and added a two-run single later.

A bigger boon? Lindor showing some semblance of the guy Cohen chose to begin his cash spree. As Friday night gave way to Saturday morning, Lindor felt gracious. Perhaps greatness will fellow.

“I can still smile,” he joked. “I’m happy that I’m good, that I’m talking to you guys.

“And I’m happy that when I looked up, my boys were out there.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Francisco Lindor appreciates Mets having his back in win vs. Nationals

Source: Yahoo Sports

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