The Mets missed Javier Baez.
In desperate need of a spark amid the now-famed 13-game gauntlet against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, the Mets got just that when their star trade-deadline acquisition returned from the 10-day injured list.
The 28-year-old shortstop went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and an RBI in his first game back on Sunday, setting the tone immediately for what would become a 7-2 Mets win that was just their second triumph over their last 10 games.
“[They got] my best, to be honest,” Baez said. “I’ve been trying to be out there. I’ve been feeling good. Just trying to help the team and I was finally able to get out there.”
“He’s a game-changer,” Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman added. “He’s a guy that can bring a lot of fear to pitchers when he steps in the box. He can make something magical at any moment. He’s someone you love to have in the lineup each and every day.”
Baez’s first-inning double put the Mets ahead from the jump, driving in Brandon Nimmo, before his second two-bagger of the day in the seventh inning — featuring another magic act of a swim slide to avoid the tag on a close play at second base — set up J.D. Davis’ home run to help put New York out of sight. It was just the second time in their last six games that the Mets offense posted more than three runs.
“Seeing a hard hit like that in the first inning — we’ve had a couple of guys who’ve done that — but to see a new face in the lineup that hasn’t been there for 10 days or so, he comes in, whacks that ball, hits that double, and immediately that’s something the team can feed off of,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s energy on the field. You saw that slide at second base… that’s some of the good things he can transmit to the other players.”
“I thought that was nice to see… that set the tone for us.”
The Mets will be hoping that those kinds of performances become commonplace down the stretch, especially because Francisco Lindor is expected to return from an oblique injury this week, as well.
New York’s $341 million man has been out since July 16 — his absence leaving a clear void despite combatting career-worst struggles for a majority of the season. His injury prompted the Mets to get Baez — a good friend of Lindor’s — to try and fill that void at shortstop. But with both players returning from injury practically at the same time, Rojas will have to do some lineup shuffling, which is a good problem to have for a team that has to make up ground quickly if it wants to re-enter the postseason picture.
“I’m really excited about being out there with [Lindor],” Baez said. “He’s almost there, too. He’s really excited to come back and he can’t wait to come back. Hopefully, he comes back when we come home.”
Upon Lindor’s return, which could come during the Mets’ three-game series beginning Tuesday night against the Giants, Baez is expected to shift to second base and supplant Jeff McNeil from his natural position. Third base doesn’t seem to be open, either, as Rojas does not want to move J.D. Davis from the hot corner.
“J.D. at third has done a good job defensively. He’s come a long way,” Rojas said. “We want to keep him there where he’s doing really good and include his bat in the middle of the lineup.”
That means left field is the only logical option for McNeil, who is batting just .114 over his last 11 games with his season batting average (.247) currently 64 points lower than his mark last year.
“Maybe he and [Dominic Smith] can share,” Rojas said. “We’re going to be moving guys around, but it’s mainly going to be Baez and Lindor up the middle.”