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Heads-up play by Jeff McNeil saves bullpen

Wilson Ramos of the Mets tags out pinch-runner

Wilson Ramos of the Mets tags out pinch-runner Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals to end the game at Citi Field on Saturday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

A heads-up play by Jeff McNeil spared Edwin Diaz and the Mets’ bullpen from another blown save Saturday night.

McNeil couldn’t corral Kolten Wong’s blooper into short rightfield with a diving try, but the second baseman scrambled to his feet in time to throw out pinch-running pitcher Jack Flaherty at the plate for the final out, preserving the Mets’ 8-7 win over the Cardinals at Citi Field.

“There was never a doubt, that’s how I felt about it,” Mickey Callaway said with a smile. “I was sitting there thinking with a pitcher on first, it’s going to be hard for him to score. That was literally the only ball, the only thing that could’ve happened, that would have given him a chance to score right there. And of course it happened.

“But Jeff McNeil made a great throw and [catcher Wilson] Ramos held on, so a win’s a win. Great play by Jeff, heads-up play to get it in and get it home. Great throw.”

Diaz opened the inning with a two-run lead, but Yadier Molina’s RBI single with two outs drove in Paul DeJong to make it 8-7. After Cardinals manager Mike Shildt inserted Flaherty as a pinch runner, Wong lifted a pop-up down the line in right. McNeil raced out and barely avoided a sliding Michael Conforto, who was playing deeper than usual to protect against an extra-base hit.

As third-base coach Ron Warner waved Flaherty home, the pitcher stumbled briefly coming around the bag. McNeil’s one-hop throw got to Ramos in plenty of time to apply the game-ending tag.

“[Wong] got jammed on it and [Conforto] was in no-doubles, so I knew he was playing extremely deep. So I do everything I can to get out there and try to make the catch,” McNeil said. “It was a really tough catch. Mike goes in there sliding, I go in there leaping, and then once that ball hit the ground, I knew they were going to send [Flaherty], they’re going to try to tie the game right there.

“So I just picked it up and I got lucky. I was behind the ball, so I got something on the throw and threw a strike to the plate.”

Diaz had blown Thursday night’s game by allowing two runs in the ninth inning before rain suspended play, and he allowed another run when play resumed the following night to suffer the loss. Jeurys Familia then was tagged for four runs in the eighth inning of Friday’s regularly scheduled game for a 9-5 loss, increasing the significance of McNeil’s game-saving play.

“We needed that. Our bullpen’s definitely struggled a little bit, but our defense picked them up right there and hopefully it carries on and we keep playing better,” McNeil said.

“Right when the ball was first hit, it was a little bloop and I said there’s no way that can drop in and the run can score,” Diaz said through a translator. “McNeil got up and made a great throw home and we got the out.”

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