New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) is checked by...

New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) is checked by teammates and manager Buck Showalter, second from right, after he was hit by a pitch during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Friday, April 8, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON

For once, Mad Max wasn’t the angriest person stalking the field. On Friday night, that title went to an enraged Buck Showalter.

Despite all the attention directed at Max Scherzer’s return to the District and the health of his balky hamstring, the Mets were more concerned about being used as target practice by Nationals pitchers for the second consecutive night in their 7-3 victory.

And when Francisco Lindor got smoked on the right cheek by Steve Cishek’s fastball in the fifth inning — less than 24 hours after Pete Alonso took a heater to the faceguard — Showalter reached his boiling point. With Lindor lying in the dirt, the Mets’ manager strode purposefully toward the mound, leaving his players and staff to fall in behind him.

Showalter kept yelling at Cishek as the two teams converged around him. Moments later, the bullpens emptied as well.

Enough was enough. Cishek drilling Lindor marked the fourth time a Met had been plunked in 14 innings. By then, whether it was an accident or not clearly didn’t matter to Showalter.

You could argue that Lindor put himself in the danger zone by squaring to bunt, and pitchers typically react by throwing up and in anyway.

 

But after two nights of the Nationals’ staff denting his players, Showalter chose to make a statement: He’s got his players’ backs, and he was fed up with seeing Alonso, Lindor and James McCann lying on them.

Fortunately, X-rays of Lindor’s jaw were negative and he passed the concussion protocol. A bullet dodged, perhaps, but that didn’t ice down the Mets, who had been steamed since Thursday night.

“I tell you, he’s lucky,” Showalter said. “I don’t know how he didn’t have more damage. That’s scary. Times like that, when it’s the fourth one, I don’t want to really hear about intent.”

It was a near-miracle that the extent of Lindor’s injury was maybe a cracked tooth. But he said Cishek apologized to him as he went to get X-rays, telling him the pitch wasn’t intentional, and the shortstop said he respected him for that.

As it turned out, Cishek was ejected for “continuing to escalate the situation after the fact,” according to crew chief Mark Carlson. When Scherzer took the mound for the bottom of the fifth, he was officially warned by the umpiring crew.

“No one’s trying to drill anybody,” Scherzer said. “The ball got away from Cishek there. It’s a cold night, the ball can slip on you, and I really feel like that’s what happened . . . Everybody’s hot in that moment, but my job is to go out there and throw strikes. I can’t get worked up like that.”

Showalter’s frustration was building even before Friday’s first pitch, so it wasn’t surprising that he led the charge. After what happened to Alonso the previous night, his first baseman was lucky to still have all his teeth. That 95-mph fastball from Mason Thompson glanced off his shoulder and into the faceguard, which slammed into his mouth and sent his helmet flying.

The troubling part about this continuing beanball trend is the frequency with which the Mets have been victimized by it. Alonso, their most dangerous slugger, has been hit 40 times, the fourth-most in the MLB since he entered the majors in 2019. The Mets have been nailed by 310 pitches since 2018, tops in the sport during that span.

That has the potential to do significant damage, regardless of what the purpose is, and Showalter is cognizant of that.

Maybe MLB’s renewed crackdown on banned sticky substances has messed with pitchers’ control across the board, but that didn’t mean Showalter had to give the Nationals a free pass in these first two games.

In some ways, you could count this as a character-building episode for the 2022 Mets, as there are few more galvanizing moments for a team than rushing to each other’s defense on the field. But this was by no choice of their own. The Nationals pushed them, and there’s only so many times you can watch from the dugout as your teammates get knocked over like bowling pins.

“I was on the ground, I heard scuffles, I look up and my whole entire team is out there, the entire coaching staff is out there,” Lindor said. “That says a lot. Super-proud to be a New York Met and be with this group of guys. I respect them a lot, I admire them and I’m glad I’m sharing the field with them every day.”

The one Met who did keep his cool? Scherzer, who passed on any retaliation and just kept pitching for six innings, limiting the Nationals to three runs and striking out six. Ultimately, that was the best revenge.

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