NEW YORK – Citi Field had its supervillain. It was in need of a superhero.
For half an inning on Saturday night, Jesse Winker had his fun, waving at the Citi Field crowd following his game-tying, three-run homer in the top of the seventh. For years prior, Winker had agitated the fan base in Queens. He was the last person the home crowd wanted to see succeed.
Only this time, the Mets had an answer for him. Patrick Mazeika, who gained a cult following last year for his multiple walk-off RBIs, crushed a go-ahead solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Mets to a 5-4 win over the Mariners. Two innings later, Edwin Díaz struck out Winker on a 101 mph fastball to end it.
“Obviously, it felt really good,” Mazeika said. “Big moment. Big team win. It was an electric crowd, too. Overall, a great night. ”
For hours, it did not seem as if things would end so well for the Mets. Only after a one-hour, eight-minute rain delay did the Citi Field seating bowl begin filling, as fans wiped off their plastic seats with paper towels. Many of those who stuck around found themselves on edge when starting pitcher Chris Bassitt loaded the bases in the first inning, allowed two more baserunners in the third and two more in the fifth. In the sixth, Bassitt allowed his first run. By the middle of that inning, he was out of the game.
Through it all, an announced crowd of 37,140 remained loud, in large part because of Winker – a player who initially drew the borough’s ire in 2019, when he made a game-ending catch for the Reds in front of a particularly animated section of fans. As he jogged off the field that day, Winker playfully waved at the Citi Field crowd, which returned the favor later in the series when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
With that, Winker became persona non grata in Flushing, in the legacy of Chipper Jones and Chase Utley. As Bassitt put it: “New York fans are a little bit different.” So when Winker hit his game-tying homer in the seventh, staring it down before once again waving at the crowd, the home fans – many of whom had chanted at Winker earlier in the game – grew agitated. So did reliever Chasen Shreve, who screamed at Winker for his slow trot around the bases, saying afterward that “it’s a little overkill.”
Winker was more bemused by the situation.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I love them,” Winker said of the Mets’ fan base. “They are an amazing group of people. They are very passionate about their team and their city. And from a guy who, born in upstate New York, big fan of that football team up there, I can understand the passion and I respect it. This thing we’ve got going on is special. “
Mets fans could say the same about their relationship with Mazeika, a longtime organizational catcher who hit a pair of walk-off fielder’s choice grounders over a five-day stretch last season. Mazeika rejoined the Mets on Friday when James McCann hit the injured list, and he was in the starting lineup the following night. During the game’s early innings, Mazeika and Bassitt seemed to struggle with their communication, never having worked together in a game. But none of that mattered when Mazeika stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh, cranking Andrés Muñoz’s first-pitch, 97 mph fastball over the fence for a homer.
“If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that you’ve got to be ready for anything,” Mazeika said. “Just embrace it. I’m always going to be ready to play whenever. That mindset’s allowed me to just come in and try to transition a little bit more seamlessly. ”
With Mazeika’s go-ahead home run in the books, the Mets had just one more challenge to overcome, and of course it came in the form of Winker. After Díaz struck out the first two batters of the ninth inning, Winker put up more of a fight, fouling off multiple 90-plus mph sliders as the crowd hung on each of them.
“I wanted to get him out,” Díaz said. “It was a big out for us. He got us in the seventh. I did not want to be the guy who gave up the game-tying homer, so I was making sure my pitches were nasty to him. ”
Finally, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Díaz fired a 101 mph fastball past Winker for the game’s final out. The villain had been vanquished. The hero had prevailed. The latest chapter in the comic-book battle was complete.
“That’s why you get up in the morning,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You never know what the game’s got in store for you.”