The great American philosopher — and Hall of Fame slugger — Reginald Martinez Jackson once contemplated the road from controversy to baseball redemption and opined: “If you have a bat in your hands, you can change the story.”
And while what Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor encountered the past few days was the size of a thumb compared to the skyscraper-level outrage and uproar that enveloped Reggie in his New York heyday, both of those players and the Mets were sure in need of a rewrite.
Baez and Lindor apologized prior to the first of two games Tuesday against the Marlins for their involvement in Thumbgate. But in baseball, atonement will not come in words or tweets or thumbs pointed in one direction or the other. It will only come with skill and winning — sports most enduring deodorant.
“In short,” Michael Conforto said following a five-run ninth-inning rally for a 6-5 triumph, “I think winning cures everything.”
The antidote carried over to the second game, a seven-inning affair won 3-1 by the Mets. But if this day of two victories sparks a return to serious contention, it will be the opener that carries the most meaning. For that victory was touched by the bizarre even by Mets standards, including that it was resuming a game that had begun 142 days earlier before being suspended.
About an hour before first pitch, Baez and Lindor stood outside the Citi Field home dugout and expressed regret for the juvenile thumbs-down gestures, which Baez revealed Sunday were designed as symbolic boos back at the home fans who were booing the players. Minutes after the game, Mets team president Sandy Alderson was among a search party foraging near home plate for a diamond earring that had popped off when Baez plunged headfirst with the winning run.
In between the Mets mostly played a boo-worthy game. The Marlins ran on Dom Smith’s arm to score two early runs. They went 4-for-4 in stolen base tries — one of which came when Patrick Mazeika moved for a pitchout and Heath Hembree, unaware, threw toward the plate. The Mets went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position through eight innings. They trailed 5-1. Even Luis Rojas would admit afterward how listless the club was.
But Brandon Nimmo hit a two-run homer to cut the deficit in half. With two outs, Smith squibbed a single to left and Pete Alonso doubled. The tying runs were in scoring position for Baez, who had been booed to the plate when he pinch hit for Jeff McNeil in the eighth. And booed more even after being hit by a pitch.
Baez, though, had a bat in his hand. He had a chance to change the reaction — and the story. He grounded to the shortstop hole and easily beat it out. Smith scored. Alonso went to third. Baez was at first with the winning run.
After Baez had been hit in the eighth, Conforto had popped out foul with two men on. In the dugout he slammed his bat and his helmet. But an inning later, he also had a bat back in his hand. A chance for a rewrite. He slithered a single to left that delivered Alonso for the tie. Perhaps no major leaguer has better instincts for baserunning than Baez — which contributes to his “El Mago” nickname; for there is magic within his game.
The play was in front of Baez as he went from first to third. So he saw converted catcher Jorge Alfaro bobble the ball in left. Fill-in third base coach Tony Tarrasco was pointing to third, but Baez never broke stride, rounding toward home. Conforto credited Baez with “incredible awareness.”
Baez dove in safely as the ball zoomed by catcher Alex Jackson. The Mets piled out of the dugout. Lindor and Baez held a long victorious embrace. The crowd that had booed Baez and mocked with thumbs-down signals was now cheering with uplifted thumbs. Baez, Lindor and the rest of the Mets should understand now. The booing is about investing so much in the team (and not just financially). They want to cheer. They need a reason.
So, this is how you stop the booing. This is the best apology. You get a bat in your hand. You use your legs like a baserunning genius. You win.
You change the story.