Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor took turns apologizing before Tuesday’s split doubleheader against the Marlins at Citi Field. In total, it was about 12 minutes worth of contrition.
They could have spent three hours. None of those words really mattered all that much after Baez revealed Sunday the Mets had essentially been booing their own fans for nearly a month with a celebratory thumbs-down gesture.
You don’t un-ring that bell with a few "sorry to everyone I offended" statements when being marched out in front of the media by the PR staff. Not after people already couldn’t wait for Baez’s free-agent departure and were trying to cope with Lindor’s 10-year contract, $341-million contract (which doesn’t even kick in until 2022).
There was only way out of this latest Mets’ fiasco, a tried-and-true remedy that is 100% effective in almost every scenario, proven over time by a franchise that’s endured just about every self-inflicted indignity you can imagine.
Win a game. Or in this case two, as the Mets swept Tuesday’s doubleheader from the Marlins by the scores of 6-5 and 3-1. And if the first victory can be secured in dramatic, heart-stirring fashion -- capped by a redemption story - even better, as the Mets did with a five-run rally in the ninth to beat the Marlins in Game 1.
The Mets’ couldn’t have written a more perfect script for Tuesday’s opener. Ninth inning, two outs, two on and Baez at the plate as the winning run. He had barely stepped into the batter’s box and fans already had started the "Ja-vy Ba-ez!" chants, imploring him to deliver his own salvation.
That’s how quickly Citi Field was ready to forgive. But not because of any apology. Many of the fans in the building -- much fewer than the official 8,199 -- probably had no idea what Baez said earlier anyway. When he first entered as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, Baez was hammered with boos, the face of Thumb-Gate (his buddy Lindor got off with a mixture of jeers and applause).
But with the game in the balance, the pariah was viewed as a potential hero instead. See, that’s how this works. Despite a turbulent 36 hours of fan condemnation -- the disavowing of anything Mets and refusing to spend another penny on their favorite team -- what they crave is something to cheer, a reason to feel good again, if only for a few moments. Make those $16 beers go down a little easier.
Incredibly, Baez turned out to be the one who provided that, only a matter of hours after his confessional by the dugout rail. In the ninth, Baez’s infield single pulled the Mets within, 5-4, before he soon scored the winning run, sprinting around from first base. Baez noticed Marlins leftfielder Jorge Alfaro boot Michael Conforto’s single and bolted for the plate, sliding headfirst to beat the tag.
A party ensued. Citi Field was ecstatic. And not a thumbs down in sight (the Mets agreed to ditch the gesture after being publicly chastised by president Sandy Alderson).
"Winning is all we want," Conforto said. "Winning is all the fans want. We’re all pulling in the same direction here. I think winning cures everything."
Baez wasn’t made available again after Tuesday’s pregame apology, but how’s this for an indication of how the thumbs had flipped. Alderson, who blasted his players for the "unacceptable" behavior late Sunday night in a press release, was down on all fours after Game 1, scouring the grass in front of home plate, leading a grounds-crew search party for Baez’s lost earring, which came loose in the walkoff ruckus.
Don’t get the wrong idea. The Mets, despite a four-game winning streak, remain a smidge better than mathematically alive for a playoff bid, and still very much in need of a serious winter makeover. Owner Steve Cohen, who tweeted praise for Baez and Lindor before Game 1, has to transition from billionaire Mets fanboy to being the same demanding, no-excuses boss he is at his hedge-fund day job with Point72.
Perhaps Lindor did learn his lesson, as Cohen suggested. Baez? Whatever. He’s a rental. The takeaway here is the Mets are best served focusing on playing winning baseball. And that has nothing to do with the fans, the media or whoever is trolling them on Twitter. It’s not complicated. We can debate forever on whether home fans should boo or not. The cheers involve a simple formula.
"I hope this doesn’t stick around because it wasn’t meant to offend anybody," Lindor said. "I apologize for doing that. I hope this doesn’t stick for the years I have left here."
Play better. Win. And honestly, the fans won’t care what fingers are up, down or sideways.