Within a few hours in Citi Field, Javier Baez transformed from a villain who deserves lustful boos to the heroic recipient of standing ovations in the midst of a happy celebration on the home plate. In short, it went clearly up from thumb down to thumb.
Baez had an important two-out run-scoring single in the Mets’ ninth inning on Tuesday afternoon and then took the winning run by sliding headlong over home plate to secure a 6-5 slide-off win for the Mets the Miami Marlins in a doubleheader’s first game. “That says a lot about the guys,” said Mets outfielder Michael Conforto of the entire rally, “especially today.”
The Mets then doubled the fun by beating the Marlins 3-1 in the doubleheader’s second game, which was limited to seven innings under MLB rules.
The team’s day had started around noon when Baez and Francisco Lindor, Mets infielder and close friends, were forced to publicly apologize for their recent thumb-down gestures, which sparked outrage among fans and within the organization had taken care of.
The gesture, Baez admitted on Sunday, was aimed at fans in retaliation for booing the team over the past few weeks. Some fans were ready to forgive Lindor, who has been with the club since the first day of spring training. When he came to the plate during the game, he heard a mixture of boos and mostly cheers.
But when Baez came into the game as a pinch hitter in game eight, he only heard boos from a small crowd of 8,199 in attendance for the resumption of a game that was on the 11th boys.
“He just has to vacuum it up and get used to Mets fans,” said Terry Trialen, a Lake Placid dental hygienist who heard the first game on the radio during a six-hour drive to the second game with her husband and son. “If you don’t boo, you’re not a Mets fan. I am sorry.”
Baez was hit by a pitch on his first at-bat and then hit the record again in the ninth after the Mets hit a 5-1 deficit with Brandon Nimmo’s double home run.
With the runners in second and third places, Mets manager Luis Rojas said he could feel a dramatic moment as Baez, whom Rojas referred to as a clutch player, stepped onto the plate.
“You expect something special to happen,” said Rojas.
Whatever instincts the fans might have had to boo Baez at that moment have been replaced by their desire to see the Mets win the game. Some even shouted Baez’s name in support. He responded by tearing a bouncing ball into the hole on the shortstop and rushing down the line to safely get first base on an infield hit when a run scored to close the gap at 5-4.
The next batsman was Conforto, who tore a single into left field. Pete Alonso scored easily from third base and Baez, driving hard behind him, saw that left fielder Jorge Alfaro had mishandled the ball. Without hesitation, Baez dug himself in, sprinted around the bend and slid safely headlong home, sparking a happy celebration in the field and in the stands.
Jonathan Villar came first to hug Baez, but Lindor was there a moment later. The close friends, who were at the center of a unique Mets-like controversy, shared an emotional embrace at home plate as the rest of the team moved to second base to celebrate with Conforto.
Taijuan Walker, who threw the first litter that day – officially replacing Marcus Stroman, who started the original game on the 11th to address it on Tuesday morning. But after the first game ended on Tuesday, Baez had rekindled the team and many of their fans, and at his first at-bat for the nightly drink he only heard cheers.
“He’s doing everything he can to win ball games for us,” said Walker of Baez, who went 1-3 in the second game of the day.
The mood had been very different on Sunday after Baez revealed the intrinsic nature of the signal that was normally made to the team’s shelter on the grassroots routes after the player took a big hit. Later that night, Sandy Alderson, the team president, issued a statement condemning the players calling it “totally unacceptable” and the fans agreed.
“I thought it was disgusting,” said John Minotti, the owner of Sunshine Coffee Roasters in Larchmont, NY. “And it was a strange decision to share it with the media. That wasn’t smart. “
But on Tuesday afternoon, Minotti was more focused on baseball skills than misjudgment. “I was happy that Baez was on our team,” he said. “Nobody else, except maybe Lindor, can play this game.”
Alderson showed that he, too, was ready to forgive Baez. During the player’s home game or perhaps during the celebrations, Baez lost a diamond earring on the field. Long after the first game was over, Alderson was out scanning the play area and helping field staff and other staff look for the precious lost jewelry.
The team had Monday off, but on Tuesday, Lindor, who signed a pre-season 10-year extension of $ 341 million after arriving at a dealership from Cleveland, and Baez went to the field to audition with reporters two games against Miami and made their apologies and explanations.
“Thumbs down to me means the adversity we’ve been through, the negative things we’ve overcome,” said Lindor. “We did it, we pulled it off. However, it was wrong and I apologize to the one I insulted. It wasn’t my intention to offend people. You can’t compete against the fans. “
Lindor added, “It doesn’t look good on our part.”
Steven Cohen, the owner of the Mets, applauded Lindor and Baez for the apology and asked fans to stand behind them for Tuesday’s games.
“I’m glad to hear our players apologize to the fans,” he wrote.
Baez, who led the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title in 2016, was picked on July 30 for an outfield prospect, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and the Mets lost 11 of the team’s next 15 games, dropping out the first Place out of the National League East. As the defeats continued for the past few weeks, fans booed louder and, according to Baez, some players developed the thumbs-down gesture to say that the players can boo the players if they can boo the players when they go bad fans play when the team is successful.
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” said Baez. “I’ve done that to the other team in the past.”
Baez said that he may have said something wrong about booing fans and that he really meant it to his teammates.
“I didn’t say the fans were bad,” he said. “I love the fans. I just felt like we were alone. Of course the fans want to win and pay our salaries, as everyone says. But we want to win and the frustration has reached us. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. We apologize.”
They did that and much more to win back the favor of a famously loyal fan base.
“In short,” said Conforto, “winning heals everything.”