First there was Daniel Murphy, the thrilling October and the long goodbye. Then there was the hunt for Ben Zobrist — a frustrating endeavor that ended in nothing but disappointment. And finally there was Neil Walker — a perfectly capable switch hitter with decent range whom the Mets could use to plug up the hole at second base. A nice consolation prize, but a consolation prize nonetheless.
That consolation prize won the Mets the game Monday night.
Walker hit his eighth home run of the season — a two-run shot off J.C. Ramirez — with one out in the seventh inning to break a tie and lead the Mets to a 5-3 victory at Citi Field, their fourth straight win and ninth in 11 games.
It was Walker’s seventh homer in 10 games, and by the time fans were chanting “Ne-il Walk-er” as he walked to his position in the top of the eighth, it was clear that memories of the second basemen that got away had long been erased.
“My swing feels good,” he said. “You have your stretches where you get hot . . . Obviously, never like this home run one . . . Maybe the extra pushups in the offseason helped.”
They certainly couldn’t have hurt. Walker has never hit more than 23 homers in a season, but on Monday night, he was one of three Mets — Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda were the others — to go yard.
“Some of the balls he’s hit in other places and other parks, they’re home run parks, but we don’t play in one and he continues to do it here,” Terry Collins said. “We hope he stays red-hot. He’s in a good spot in the lineup . . . and he’s just swinging the bat great.”
The win helped lessen the sting of losing catcher Travis d’Arnaud in the eighth. He left the game with right shoulder discomfort and will see a doctor today.
“He’s got a bad shoulder from throwing, so that’s why we’re concerned,” Collins said. “Any time you’re talking about a shoulder problem with a catcher, it’s a problem.”
Conforto went 3-for-3 and was a triple shy of the cycle. Noah Syndergaard pitched 6 2⁄3 innings, allowing seven hits — mostly weak dribblers — with nine strikeouts.
The Mets led until the seventh, when Syndergaard was pulled for Antonio Bastardo, who allowed an RBI single to Joey Votto to tie it at 3. All three runs were charged to Syndergaard.
Conforto continued his torrid stretch on his fourth pitch of the night. Raisel Iglesias went 2-and-1 on him before Conforto deposited his sinker about a third of the way up the stands in centerfield, right in the heart of the 7-Line Army seating section, for a solo home run.
Conforto is 14-for-37 since moving up to the No. 3 spot, with 10 runs, five doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs in 10 games.
Zack Cozart’s sacrifice fly tied it at 1 in the third, but Duda hit a two-run shot to give the Mets a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the inning. Cozart added an RBI single in the seventh and Votto’s single tied it. But Conforto led off the next inning and walked. One batter later, Walker did what he’s been doing a lot of lately.
“It makes it easier when guys are swinging the bat,” he said. “Conforto is on base all day long.”
It’s clear the Mets and their fans are enjoying his contributions, too. After all, the chants these days are for him. Not Murphy, and never for Zobrist.
“That was really awesome,” Walker said of the reception. “It made me feel very much at home. It’s good to be part of this and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Not bad for a consolation prize.