It was on Friday, after another brutal loss, that Jeff McNeil sat at his locker in full uniform, staring blankly at not much of anything. Most of his teammates had showered and changed, or even were on their way out, but McNeil, literally and figuratively, still wore the dirt of another bad night.
Sure, Sunday night isn’t going to fix everything, but for a team that has had so little to celebrate, it was basically time to pop the champagne.
Hours after being named to his first All-Star Game, McNeil batted with two outs in the eighth, the Mets down by one and the bases loaded. He flared a single to right that drove in two runs as the Mets overcame their bullpen and beat the Braves, 8-5, at Citi Field, to break a seven-game losing streak.
Fellow All-Star Pete Alonso added a two-run double to cap the five-run inning, again showing that despite the bleakness of this season, the Mets have a young core that could make them very good someday. McNeil is hitting .348, tops in the majors.
“Pretty unbelievable day, right up there with when I got called up,” McNeil said. “Just to have the day end like that, it’s pretty awesome.”
This, though, was all preempted by — what else? — a bullpen meltdown.
On Sunday night, it was Chris Flexen, the one arm that’s been consistently dependable in this ugly stretch. He got out of one jam, replacing Noah Syndergaard with the bases loaded and two outs in a tie game and retiring pinch hitter Matt Joyce. But then the seventh inning happened. So did what always happens.
Flexen, who had a 1.29 ERA dating to June 16, allowed a leadoff single by Ronald Acuña Jr., a double by Dansby Swanson and a two-run double by Mets-killer Freddie Freeman, putting the Braves up 5-3.
Todd Frazier, however, homered to begin the eighth, giving him 23 RBIs for the month.
Sean Newcomb hit Robinson Cano with a pitch and Amed Rosario singled, but Tomas Nido’s bunt resulted in a forceout at third. Pinch hitter Wilson Ramos flied deep to right, and Rosario tagged up to put runners at the corners with two outs.
A.J. Minter walked Michael Conforto and McNeil singled on the first pitch to put the Mets up 6-5. Not one to let his teammate have all the fun, Alonso grounded a double into the leftfield corner, bringing in Conforto and McNeil.
Then Edwin Diaz pitched a perfect ninth.
“Todd started us off right,” Alonso said. “That was a heck of a way to start an inning. It’s just infectious. This team doesn’t give up no matter what our record is. We always fight until the last pitch. Today, we could have easily folded but, just the character of this team, today is a really awesome example of that.”
It was a raucous end to what actually had been a good day — a rarity around these parts.
Alonso and McNeil were named to the All-Star Game along with Jacob deGrom, who will be making his third trip. Syndergaard returned from his hamstring strain and allowed three runs, seven hits and three walks in 5 2⁄3 innings, striking out five.
Syndergaard’s fastball touched 99 mph, and he was mostly able to weave in and out of trouble despite the Braves’ scary lineup.
“These guys don’t give up,” Mickey Callaway said. “You lose a bunch in a row and you’re down late, you keep fighting.
“Sometimes you just have to touch the ball and good things will happen. McNeil touches the ball. That’s why he’s hitting .340-something and an All-Star.”