Neil Walker made it through his postgame media conference in the Mets’ home opener at Citi Field on Friday without anyone mentioning the person who started at second base before Walker’s arrival.
That seemed like Walker’s second victory of the day. He had plenty to do with the first one, driving in two runs with two hits as the Mets beat the Phillies, 7-2.
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Walker is hitting .333, owns the Mets’ only home run and has driven in a club-leading five runs in the first three games. Mets postseason star Daniel Murphy, who signed with the Nationals in the offseason, is at .364 with one homer and five RBIs.
After the media conference, Walker, acquired from the Pirates for pitcher Jonathon Niese, was asked about taking over for Murphy. “People are going to form their opinion about how they feel about the situation or not feel about the situation,” he said. “All I can do is kind of go play my game. I kind of have to blaze my own trail, per se, to a certain degree, and I can’t really worry about what has gone on before I was here.”
Walker realizes that when the Mets play the Nationals next month for the first time in this regular season, the comparison might be in his face. “Sure, sure, sure,” he said. “It’s one of the things here I know. It’s going to be there. When I was in Pittsburgh, Freddy Sanchez had just left and he won the batting title [in 2006] and there were still some rumblings about that when I kind of settled in there, so I’ve had the questions before. For me, it’s less about what [Murphy’s] doing and trying to play to his level or whatever the case may be.’’
Walker is trying to stake his own claim to the position. The score was tied at 1 when Walker singled in the go-ahead run off Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Walker was more excited about his RBI single in the seventh against lefthander James Russell, saying, “To be in somewhat of a high- leverage situation, getting two strikes after swinging at two bad balls out of the zone, to kind of slow it down, back it up and shoot one to right — those are signs that you’re doing things the right way. We’ve been working hard on it and I think it’s going to continue to improve.”
Said manager Terry Collins: “I think one of the big hits was Neil Walker, who in the past has had some struggles against lefties.”
If Walker can build on that, Collins said, “Boy, our lineup is going to be pretty good.”
Walker, 30, also has added defensive reliability as he teams with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to tighten the middle infield.
“They’re veteran guys; they mesh [pretty easily],” Collins said. “We made some double plays in Kansas City we hadn’t made in a while. Those were positive signs.”
Walker retains one strong attachment to his seven years in Pittsburgh. He is a fan of the NHL’s Penguins, who could face the Rangers or Islanders in the postseason. “I am a little afraid of [Henrik] Lundqvist in the playoffs,” he said. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
Murphy? Not so much.