In April, Francisco Lindor agreed to marry the Mets in Washington, D.C. He was in his hotel room when he got word of an extension offer of $341 million over 10 years, or a million more than Fernando Tatis Jr. got from the Padres over 14. Lindor had become the richest shortstop ever, and he wished he could celebrate by jumping into his pool at home.
Instead Lindor ignored the counsel of his father, who advised against a commotion that would upset neighboring hotel guests, and started screaming. He compared it to hitting the Powerball lottery, and beleaguered Mets fans everywhere thought they would share in the proceeds.
Those fans have spent the better part of five months feeling like they had been suckered yet again.
A couple of big ninth-inning home runs in back-to-back days in Washington, where it all began, does not change the long-term story. Among other things, Lindor has been outhit and outslugged by the shortstop the Mets sent to Cleveland, Amed Rosario, in the package that landed him. So yes, Lindor is among the chief reasons the Mets are in third place in the National League East.
But with Brandon Nimmo out, he is also among the chief reasons the Mets can still finish in first place, even though they are 3 ¹/₂ games behind Atlanta with 25 to play, with Philly wedged in between. Lindor is a four-time All-Star who proved over this holiday weekend that he can be the solution to a problem he helped create.
Saturday, in the first game of a doubleheader, Lindor prevented the biggest single-game collapse in the history of a collapse-crazy franchise by finishing a three-hit, four-RBI day with a two-run homer in the second extra inning, otherwise known as the ninth. The Mets had blown a 9-0 lead to the Nationals, and their shortstop saved them from a disaster that would have caused irreparable harm to their postseason bid.
That’s why you pay people $341 million.
Sunday, Lindor provided another reminder why Steve Cohen, hedge fund guy, didn’t hedge in locking up the 27-year-old Lindor until he’s old and gray. The Mets were holding a wobbly 7-6 lead in the ninth when Lindor led off the inning by launching Austin Voth’s first pitch, a curveball, over the center-field wall, a good 413 feet from the plate. Lindor’s teammates followed his lead and added five more runs, four on Kevin Pillar’s grand slam, to make the final 13-6, the Mets’ eighth victory in their last nine games.
That’s why you pay people $341 million.
“He’s Francisco Lindor, you know?” Javier Baez said afterward. “He’s just got to do him. … He’s just got to let the game come to him and just be him, and everything will go the right way for him.”
Baez had himself a hell of a day as well, going 4-for-4 with a homer. The previous Sunday, when he revealed that his thumbs-down gesture (also made by Lindor and Pillar) was a rebuke of booing fans, it seemed the Mets were heading for a meltdown. The subsequent arrest of Zack Scott, acting GM, on a drunk-driving charge did nothing to disabuse anyone of that notion.
But Baez, Lindor, and Pillar have responded where it matters most — on the field. And those who rush to point out the Mets have done their winning against the Nationals and Marlins should remember that the Braves did the same thing. You need to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat, something that might get repeated a few times in October if all these Yankees losses to Baltimore forces them to play the wild-card game in Fenway instead of in The Bronx.
Given that they still play Atlanta and Philly three times apiece, the Mets are now a half-game away from controlling their destiny. If Lindor plays this final month at his old All-Star level, what would that do to the Mets’ chances of winning the division?
“It dramatically increases it,” Pillar said. “He’s one of the best players in the world.”
Lindor got off to a painfully slow start with the Mets. He got into that embarrassing rat-or-raccoon tussle with Jeff McNeil. He pressed and pressed and then suffered that oblique injury, missing five-plus weeks. Now is his opportunity to make up for lost time.
Manager Luis Rojas noted that Sunday’s homer wasn’t pulled to right, that Lindor trusted his power to the biggest part of the field. When he does that, Rojas said, “he can see the pitch longer. He’s going to walk twice like he did today, and he can come back to being the Francisco Lindor that we all know.”
Over their final 25 games, the Mets need the Francisco Lindor they traded for and extended through the year 2031. It’s the best chance they’ve got.