November 28, 2022

Francisco Lindor has New York moment in Mets wild card series

Francisco Lindor’s solo homer jumpstarted the Mets’ offense on Saturday against the Padres. (John Minchillo/AP)

Francisco Lindor’s daughter Kalina stole the show Saturday night after the Mets’ 7-3 wild card win over the San Diego Padres, which was fitting for a player that put on a show all season.

The Mets traded for Lindor and then subsequently signed him to a 10-year, $341 million contract not only to help the Mets get to games like this but to help the Mets win games like they won Saturday night and will need to win Sunday night. A first-inning home run might not have factored into the score much at the end, but it was still beneficial. It set the tone for the Mets one night after a brutal loss and let the rest of the lineup ease up in a win-or-go-home game.

“Hitting that home run and giving us a 1-0 lead, I think it’s huge to score first,” Jeff McNeil said Sunday before Game 3. “It kind of takes a little pressure off.”

Lindor has been a key catalyst for the Mets all season, as is evidenced by his 6.8 regular season fWAR, which was the sixth-best in the league, and now he’s a playoff veteran on a roster that consists of a lot of playoff newcomers. The Mets have relied on him to lead on the field and in the clubhouse, where he has preached keeping a level head and managing emotions.

“We’ve been trying to play like ourselves,” Lindor said. “It’s just baseball. We have good days. We have bad days. We try to eliminate as many bad days as possible and try to have more good days.”

This is a team that doesn’t hit a lot of home runs so it relies on each member of the lineup to contribute and keep runners moving. In recent weeks, they haven’t done that. Situational hitting has been difficult. Lindor’s big blast wasn’t the biggest in the win — that one belonged to Jeff McNeil — but Lindor wants the team to understand that they have to play to their identity and not try to swing for the fences with the bases loaded in each at-bat with so much on the line.

“The game is not easy at all,” he said. “We’re all trying to get that passing the baton so the next guy can do it and the next guy and on and on. We put a couple base runners, and we got that big blow.”

SLOWING IT DOWN TO SPEED IT UP

Game 2 was the longest nine-inning game in postseason history at 4:13. Nothing needed to be slowed down, but the PitchCom issues the Padres were having did slow things to a point that closer Edwin Diaz needed to go throw in the cages in between innings.

The Mets don’t necessarily want to slow the game down, but it’s a phrase they’ve used often this week as they talk about the pressure of postseason moments. McNeil learned how to slow things down long ago. His college program used to work with renowned sports psychologist, the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, on how to relax in big moments.

This might be his first postseason, but the deep breath he takes before every at-bat — something he learned from Dr. Ravizza — helped him drown out the noise and come through with a key two-run double.

“That’s something we learned in college at Long Beach. We worked with Ken Ravizza a lot, and I think that really helped me for the Braves series and this series, the two biggest series,” McNeil said. “Kind of taking that deep breath, staying in the moment, staying present, slowing things down, I think I’ve been able to do a really good job of that, and I contribute a lot of that to my time at Long Beach.”

RUNNING GAME

The Mets have been aggressive on the basepaths throughout this series, stealing three bases, taking large leads and running often on Padres pitchers. They also have Terrance Gore on the bench, a pinch-running specialist of sorts whose late-inning baserunning prowess has helped the Kansas City Royals and the Dodgers win World Series championships in recent years.

San Diego manager Bob Melvin thinks that will end Sunday night with Joe Musgrove on the mound.

“Joe is a little bit quicker to the plate. He’s tougher to run on,” Melvin said. “He’s probably our best as far as controlling the running game. He fields his position well, does a lot of the intangible things that maybe we weren’t as good at here in the first couple games.”