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Jeff McNeil's pinch-hit double caps Mets' four-run rally in sixth to beat Blue Jays in Rich Hill's debut

Rich Hill #21 of the New York Mets

Rich Hill #21 of the New York Mets pitches during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Citi Field on Sunday, July 25, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

Ninety-six hours into pseudo-injury purgatory, Jeff McNeil was freed — and won the Mets a game.

They beat the Blue Jays, 5-4, on Sunday after he pinch hit a go-ahead two-run double in the sixth inning.

His cameo during that four-run rally, which also featured a tying two-run homer by Pete Alonso, was McNeil’s first appearance since Wednesday, when he left a game early because of what the Mets called a fatigued left leg.

He had the team’s off day Thursday, then sat out Friday and Saturday and was out of the lineup again Sunday. But this time he was available off the bench.

 

"It felt like I was dragging," McNeil said of his physical condition in recent days. "I should be good from here on out."

McNeil framed his absences as proactive, particularly after a strained left hamstring forced him to sit out for about a month this season. When he played six consecutive games — including a nearly five-hour marathon on Monday — coming out of the All-Star break, he didn’t feel strong.

The Mets’ strength tests confirmed as much. He needed to rest, team medical personnel told him.

"I was in kind of a bad place, real weak," said McNeil, who is scheduled to start one of the Mets’ doubleheader games Monday against Atlanta. "It’s something we had to build up to, making sure I’m able to stay on the field long-term."

Manager Luis Rojas used him in an opportune moment, having him pinch hit for catcher Tomas Nido with two on and two out against righthander Jacob Barnes, whom the Mets (52-44) traded to Toronto last month.

McNeil stepped to the plate expecting fastballs and cutters from Barnes, who surprised him with a first-pitch changeup, which he fouled off. Barnes came back with a fastball, which McNeil fouled off to fall into an 0-and-2 hole, and four consecutive changeups.

McNeil smacked the final pitch to right-centerfield.

"It was something I was seeing well," he said. "And that last one I saw pretty well and was able to put a good swing on it and find the gap."

That extended McNeil’s hitting streak to a career-high 12 games. Alonso has a hit in nine straight games since winning the Home Run Derby, matching his personal-best run.

His homer was his fifth in a week.

"When Pete comes up in that situation," McNeil said, "I’m beginning to expect a home run there."

Rojas said: "The quieter he is, the less movement, the better he sees the ball and he’s able to pounce. That’s what he’s doing. He’s repeating it. He’s very, very confident right now."

In his Mets debut after joining the team via a trade with the Rays on Friday, lefthander Rich Hill was charged with three runs and five hits in five innings-plus. Toronto’s Ross Stripling (five innings, one run) outpitched him.

But the final line doesn’t tell the story of Hill’s day. He cruised through five scoreless innings on 49 pitches. Then he ran into trouble when he had to face the top of the Blue Jays’ lineup for a third time, loading the bases with nobody out in the sixth.

Rojas went to Seth Lugo, who allowed all three inherited runners to score. Two came in on Bo Bichette’s 0-and-2 single to center.

Hill has a 5.40 ERA in his past eight starts. A problem for at least part of that stretch, he said, was that his signature curveball was not sharp.

"The curveball was probably one of the best I had this year," he said. "It’s good to see that come back."

The Mets engaged Hill, a free agent, in contract talks during the offseason, but he signed with Tampa Bay because he wanted to win the World Series. In his 17th major-league season, Hill, 41, has been there a couple of times but never won.

He said he was surprised to be dealt but called joining the Mets "a great honor."

"The good part about it," he said, "is coming here and being in a position to do something special this year."

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