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Finally an All-Star pitcher, Mets’ Taijuan Walker ready to be among ‘the best of the best’

Jul 9, 2021; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Taijuan Walker didn’t have his best stuff in his final first-half start on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but his overall body of work for the 2021 Mets was finally rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game. 

After the Mets’ 13-4 victory over the Pirates at a soggy Citi Field on July 9, Mets skipper Luis Rojas told Walker that he would replace his teammate, Jacob deGrom, on the National League’s All-Star Squad in Tuesday night’s Midsummer Classic at Coors Field in Denver.

Many Met fans believed that Walker should’ve made the All-Star Game outright when Major League Baseball announced the rosters earlier this week. Signed just before spring training to round out the starting rotation, Walker has turned into a solid number-two starter behind deGrom, going 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA and striking out 89 batters in 90 innings pitched.

Despite the initial snub, Walker now takes deGrom’s place on the roster, as the Mets ace declined his invite to Denver to rest up his arm and be with his family. For Walker, the All-Star Game selection is the fulfillment of one of his career goals.

“Once I got to the big leagues, it was always a goal to be an All-Star, to be the best of the best and compete against the best, and be around the best players in the league,” he told reporters during a post-game press conference Friday night.

The selection also pumped up Walker’s mood a bit after a shaky outing against the Pirates on Friday night in which he only went five innings, giving up two runs, three walks and four hits while striking out just two.

Still, Walker did what he’s done for the Mets all season long: Pitched well enough to keep them in the game. He left after five innings with the score knotted at two; one inning later, the Mets offense exploded with a 10-run sixth inning, highlighted by a three-run bomb by first baseman Pete Alonso and a grand slam by shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Overall, the Mets have won 13 of Walker’s 16 starts so far in 2021. By contrast, they’re 11-4 in deGrom’s 15 starts this year. The starting pitching trio of deGrom, Walker and Marcus Stroman (6-6 with a 2.60 ERA) have powered the Mets to the top of the standings, up 4 1/2 games on the second-place Atlanta Braves going into Saturday’s action.

Along with finally getting to pitch among the best players in baseball on Tuesday, Walker was also particularly excited to get a front-row seat for Alonso’s title defense in the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

“To go out there, pitch in Colorado and have the all-star next to my name is really cool,” Walker added.

Meanwhile, the Mets will continue their four-game series with the Pirates at Citi Field on Saturday with a single-admission doubleheader at 4:10 p.m. They’ll wrap up the first half against Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, then travel to the Steel City after the All-Star Break to begin the second half of the season Friday night, July 16.

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