KANSAS CITY, Mo. — To answer your first question: Yes, Neil Walker was aware that former Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy hit a home run in his first game as a National Monday.
To answer your second question: No, the Mets’ new second baseman is not going to spend the rest of the season comparing himself to Murphy, even if fans and journalists will be unable to help themselves.
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“I’m worried about what’s going on on this team and in this clubhouse,” Walker said Tuesday after he matched his predecessor with a two-run home run in the fourth inning for the only runs in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over the Royals.StoryManfred says Mejia’s ‘conspiracy’ claim off baseStoryMets don’t witness Royals getting ringsStorySyndergaard stands tall as Mets blank Royals
“I’m only doing what I can do to help this team.”
The fact Murphy is playing for the Mets’ biggest divisional rival will make it impossible to ignore him this spring and summer. (He also drove in the winning run Monday with a double.) But Walker is focused on fitting in in his first season since being acquired in a trade from the Pirates, not on a National.
So far, so good.
“Big game today, big hit,” manager Terry Collins said, adding that he has liked what he sees from the new middle infield combination of Walker and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
“One of the things we’ve seen is we’ve been really good up the middle so far. We’ve turned some double plays that in the past we might not have. (Walker) is a good player. This guy is in a great situation. We have a good club, and with the possibility of being a free agent (after the season), he’s got a lot of positives going for him.”
Walker said he was not specifically focused on making a good first impression. Well, maybe a little.
“I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t cross your mind, because it does,” he said, “but as a guy that’s played for a while now you understand the more you try to press and do more than you’re capable of doing the more counterproductive it is.
“Days like today all I was thinking about was getting the barrel on the ball and I was able to lift it in the (rightfield) seats and the pitchers did the rest.”
Walker said he believed Royals pitcher Chris Young was looking for a ground ball with Yoenis Cespedes at first base, but “he just left the pitch up a little more than he wanted to and I put a good swing on it.”
With one out in the ninth, Walker briefly mishandled a hard ground ball by Eric Hosmer, stuck with it and barely got him at first base.
“I was going back to my catching roots on that ball,” he said. “It took kind of an extra hop and shot forward and my goal was just to try to knock it down any way I could and get the out.”
Afterward David Wright presented him with the ceremonial “Champion of the Game” belt. It hung in his locker as he spoke to reporters.
“I’ve heard a lot about it and the mystique that comes along and that was a really cool moment to get it today,” said Walker, who added he should have at least shared it with starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, not to mention the bullpen.
But wait: Was that a Pittsburgh Penguins-logoed toiletry bag hanging in his locker, too?
The same Penguins who are a potential first-round playoff matchup for the Rangers or Islanders?
Said Walker, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, smiled and said, “I was waiting for questions on that one. Your heart’s where your heart is, I guess, when it’s not baseball.”
Mets fans won’t care what hockey team he roots for as long as he hits home runs and turns double plays. The Citi Field crowd will get its first in-person look at him Friday.
Will he be trying to win them over? “I think my play is going to speak for itself,” he said. “You can never really tell anybody how to think or react. All I can do is go out and play and hope that I’m accepted as a Met.”