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The absence of the injured Jacob deGrom from the season-opening rotation seemed to end the Mets’ hopes of making an immediate statement — equal parts symbolic and declarative — about the start of their new era. As good as their starting pitchers were in back-to-back wins over the Nationals, Tylor Megill and Max Scherzer earning those wins didn’t provide the heft that would have been delivered by deGrom and Scherzer.
But fate — in the form of four Mets getting hit by pitches in those first two games — delivered an opportunity for manager Buck Showalter to deliver an even bolder statement about the Mets in 2022 and beyond.
They’re not going to be pushed around anymore — accidentally or otherwise.
“Times like that, the fourth one, I don’t really want to hear about intent,” Showalter said Friday night following a 7-3 win over the Nationals and a couple hours after he led the charge out of the dugout when Francisco Lindor was hit in the face by a Steve Cishek fastball.
Judging by the postgame comments Friday from everyone else in the Mets or Nationals dugouts, there was nothing intentional, individually or collectively, about the HBPs on a pair of chilly nights in which a quartet of inconsistent pitchers all had difficulty gripping the baseball.
With the bases loaded in the fifth inning of Thursday’s 5-1 win, James McCann was plunked on the foot by Patrick Corbin, who has a 5.48 ERA since the start of the 2020 season. With a runner on first the next inning, McCann was hit again, this time in the shoulder, by Andres Machado, who has a 5.31 ERA in 43 big league appearances.
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With two outs in the ninth, Pete Alonso barely avoided serious injury when a fastball by Mason Thompson — who has walked 16 batters in 25 2/3 career innings — glanced off Alonso’s shoulder and bounced off the C-flap on his batting helmet. Alonso sprung up and left the field and cleared concussion protocols by the time he spoke to reporters after the game, when he said his only issue was a swollen lip.
Lindor was the first batter faced this season by Cishek, who walked an average of 5.1 batters per nine innings the last two seasons, up from a rate of 3.4 walks per nine innings from 2010 through 2019. The sidearming Cishek’s third pitch, an 88 mph fastball, sailed up and in and off the face of the switch-hitting Lindor, who was squaring around to bunt.
Benches and bullpens emptied and there was lots of pushing and shoving but no punches thrown before Cishek and Nationals third base coach Gary DiSarcina — who spent the previous four years on the Mets’ coaching staff — were ejected.
Shortly after heading to the clubhouse, Cishek saw Lindor getting X-rays and apologized to him — just as Thompson did on the field with Alonso Thursday night.
“No one’s trying to drill anybody,” Scherzer said after tossing six innings of three-run ball against his former team. “It’s a cold night. The ball can slip on you. I really feel like that’s what happened tonight. Everybody’s hot in the moment.”
Or beyond, in Showalter’s case.
“When you’re throwing up in there, those things can’t happen,” said Showalter, who was clipped throughout most of his postgame press conference.
Those things have seemed to happen with regularity this century for the Mets, who have repeatedly been put in a position where they either find it difficult to exact some retribution for an on-field incident or end up getting further flummoxed by the perpetuator.
The Mets wanted revenge on Roger Clemens in the worst way after Clemens concussed Mike Piazza — who was hitting 7-for-12 with three homers against Clemens — with an obvious beanball on July 9, 2000. But Bobby Valentine, who never forgot what it was like to be hit in the face as a minor leaguer, ordered Mike Hampton to stand down the next night, when Shea Stadium was ready to witness a Subway Series brawl.
The Mets’ NL Championship Series-clinching victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 16 was dampened when Jay Payton was hit above the left eye by a pitch from Dave Veres. Benches emptied but with the Mets three outs from the pennant, no punches were thrown and Payton was stitched up by the time he joined his teammates in pouring out of the dugout.
Six nights later, in Game 2 of the World Series, Clemens chucked Piazza’s broken bat at him after the catcher fouled off a pitch. Piazza approached Clemens and asked what the you-know-what was wrong with him. Had Clemens tried engaging Piazza, instead of gesturing for another baseball, Piazza and the Mets would have gotten their payback. But the entire thing — from Piazza fouling the pitch off to the benches and bullpens emptying and receding and Piazza grounding out on the next pitch — was over in a two-minute span and Clemens went on to toss eight innings of two-hit ball and earn the win in the Yankees’ 6-5 victory.
Joe Torre shielded Clemens from appearing at Shea Stadium — where he’d have to bat — until June 15, 2002, when Shawn Estes threw a pitch behind Clemens’ rear end before hitting a homer off him two innings later.
Everyone on the field agreed Matt Cain didn’t mean to bean David Wright on Aug, 15, 2009, when the star third baseman suffered a concussion after being hit on the helmet. But Johan Santana pulled a page from Estes’ book by throwing behind and entirely missing Pablo Sandoval, who hit a two-run homer later in the at-bat.
Wright was among the Mets who criticized Chase Utley when Utley broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada with a hard quasi-slide during Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS. On May 28, 2016, Terry Collins went viral after Noah Syndergaard was ejected from a game at Citi Field after throwing behind but missing Utley, who struck out before hitting a solo homer and a grand slam in his next two at-bats.
While there was no dramatic resolution Friday, Lindor — who set career-lows with a .230 average and .734 OPS in his first season with the Mets while fighting with teammate Jeff McNeil and leading a group of players offering a “thumbs down” gesture at booing fans — was heartened by the sight of his manager, coaches and teammates spilling on to the field in his defense.
“That says a lot,” said Lindor, who said he was fine other than a potentially chipped tooth. “I’m super proud to be a New York Met and to be with this group of guys here. I respect them a lot. I admire them and I’m glad to be sharing the field with them everyday.”
There’s no guarantee Friday’s near-fracas or Showalter’s reaction will provide the Mets a galvanizing boost. Piazza set off a wild scene by charging the mound after being hit by Guillermo Mota during a spring training game in 2003, when the Mets finished 66-95.
But it’s a near-certainty that Showalter — who can remember, 30-plus years later, the pitchers in his rotation when he was managing the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate — knows about all the slights the Mets have absorbed and understands how the quartet of plunkings in the midst of two otherwise routine wins over a basement-bound foe provide the Mets a chance to build an identity and chemistry nowhere to be found over the last two seasons.
“Umpires thought it was worthy of an ejection,” Showalter said of Cishek’s pitch. “So I’ll leave it at that.”
With 160 games left in the season, including 17 against the Nationals, you can be absolutely certain it will not be left at that.