First there was Daniel Murphy, the thrilling October, and the long goodbye. Then there was the hunt for Ben Zobrist — a frustrating endeavor that ended in nothing but disappointment. And finally there was Neil Walker — a perfectly capable switch hitter with decent range that the Mets could use to plug up the hole at second base. A nice consolation prize, but a consolation prize nonetheless.
That consolation prize won the Mets the game Monday night.
Walker hit his eighth home run of this young season — a two-run shot off Reds reliever J.C. Ramirez — with one out in the seventh inning to break a tie and lead the Mets to a 5-3 win at Citi Field, their fourth inj a row and ninth in 11 games.
Walker has seven homers over his last 10 games and joined Jeff Kent as the only other Mets second baseman to hit eight homers in April. Mind you, there are still five days left in the month. And by the time fans were chanting “Ne-il Walk-er” as he walked to his position in the top of the eighth, it was clear that memories of the second basemen that got away had long been erased.
“That was really awesome and it made me feel very much at home,” Walker of said of the crowd’s reaction. “It’s good to be part of this. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Michael Conforto, who went 3-for-3 and was a triple shy of the cycle, walked to lead off the seventh before scoring his third run of the game. Noah Syndergaard pitched 6 2⁄3 innings, allowing seven hits — mostly weak dribblers — with nine strikeouts. The Mets led until the seventh when Syndergaard was pulled for Antonio Bastardo, who allowed an RBI single to Joey Votto to tie the score at 3.
Conforto, who’s been nearly unstoppable since getting moved into the third spot in the lineup, continued his torrid stretch on the fourth pitch he saw Monday night. After back-to-back strikeouts of Curtis Granderson and David Wright to start the bottom of the first, Raisel Iglesias went 2-and-1 on Conforto before his sinker was deposited about a third of the way up the stands in centerfield, right in the heart of the 7-Line Army seating section. Iglesias then allowed two straight singles to Lucas Duda and Neil Walker, before getting Asdrubal Cabrera on an infield dribbler to stop the damage.
Conforto is now 14-for-37 since getting moved to the three spot, with 10 runs, five doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs in 10 games.
Said Walker, “It makes everything easier when guys [are hitting] . . . Conforto is on base all day.”
The Reds got the run back in the third, when Billy Hamilton bunted to lead off the inning, stole second and third, and scored on Zack Cozart’s sacrifice fly. But it takes more than that to stop the Mets — and the middle of their lineup — these days.
Conforto led off the third with a single to left and Duda hit his fourth homer of the season, a high-arching blast to right, for a 3-1 lead. Syndergaard’s only real vulnerability was the stolen base, and it nearly bit him in the sixth. Eugenio Suarez singled to lead off the inning — to that point, the only Reds hit to leave the infield — and stole second on Joey Votto’s swinging strike three. Ivan De Jesus singled, moving Suarez to third, and then stole second. But to quote Terry Collins before the game, Syndergaard “is not intimidated by things”: He struck out Devin Mesoraco and Adam Duvall, both swinging, to keep the Mets’ lead at two runs.
But Tyler Holt singled with one out in the seventh and advanced to second when a pickoff attempt was misplayed by Duda. He later came home on Cozart’s two-out single, ending Syndergaard’s night and summoning Bastardo from the bullpen to hold on to the 3-2 lead. That hope fizzled out pretty quickly — on a walk to Suarez and Votto’s well-stroked RBI single.
D’Arnaud exits with pain. Travis d’Arnaud left after the seventh inning with right shoulder discomfort and will see a doctor today for further evaluation.
“Any time you’re talking about a shoulder problem with a catcher, it’s a problem,” said Terry Collins, who added he would need further information before saying whether the injury would necessitate a DL stint.
D’Arnaud allowed five stolen bases before disclosing the shoulder pain. “I’ve never experienced it,” he said, adding that it didn’t occur on one particular play but from the general throwing motion.
He added he was not concerned.