Mets’ Báez bolts out of doghouse with apology, winning run

Sports

New York Mets’ Javier Baez gestures at home plate after his two-run home run that also scored Michael Conforto during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)

NEW YORK (AP) — Javier Báez apologized for running his mouth, then sprinted right back into the good graces of Mets fans.

Báez bolted from first to home for the winning run in the ninth inning of a 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, hours after he and Francisco Lindor apologized for their roles in a thumbs-down gesture that was in part a dig at New York fans who have booed the underperforming ballclub.

Báez and Lindor took turns saying they were sorry within an hour of the first pitch. Their regrets followed a stern statement from team president Sandy Alderson on Sunday night disavowing the gesture, as well as a team meeting Tuesday in which players said they would stop making it.

“I didn’t mean to offend anybody,” Báez said.

Lindor added, “It doesn’t look good on our part.”

The longtime friends spoke to reporters in front of the Mets’ dugout. Lindor was booed by a few fans when he emerged, and two young boys held up thumbs-down signals behind him while he spoke. After Báez concluded his apology, one fan shouted to him, “Javy, we just want to win, bro!”

Lindor drew some boos during his first at-bat of the game, which was the resumption of an April matchup suspended by rain in the first inning.

But Báez got a much ruder welcome when he entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Many in the sparse crowd stood and turned down their thumbs while he batted, jeering him until he was hit by a 2-2 pitch on the shin and walked to first.

Báez batted again in the ninth, and the tone shifted. Fans chanted “Javy Báez!” as he stood in with two on, two out and New York trailing 5-3. Báez beat out an infield single, earning an ovation after trimming the lead to 5-4.

Báez then dashed home on Michael Conforto’s single to left field. He was mobbed at home plate by a group of teammates, including Lindor. They shared a long hug moments later.

The 28-year-old Báez was also cheered in the nightcap of the doubleheader, when he singled and scored in a 3-1 victory.

Acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 30, Báez had hit .210 with four homers and a .709 OPS in 17 games before Tuesday. Mets fans booed the two-time All-Star and others throughout August, when the team has gone 8-19 — Tuesday’s early result counts toward April — to fall out of playoff position after leading the NL East for nearly three months.

Players began making the thumbs-down gesture toward their dugout after base hits and other positive plays while at Dodger Stadium from Aug. 20-22.

“When we don’t get success, we’re going to get booed,” Báez explained Sunday. “So they’re going to get booed when we have success.”

Lindor and manager Luis Rojas said Tuesday they believe Báez — whose first language is Spanish but doesn’t use an interpreter when speaking to media — misspoke when he said Mets players were booing the fans.

“I didn’t say the fans are bad, I love the fans, but like, I just felt like we were alone,” Báez said Tuesday. “The fans obviously want to win, and they pay our salary like everybody says, but like, we want to win, too, and the frustration got to us. And, you know, I didn’t mean to offend anybody, and if I offend anybody, we apologize.”

Lindor also said the gesture was not explicitly about fans.

“Thumbs down for me means adversity, the adversity we have gone through in this whole time,” Lindor said. “Like the negative things, we overcome it, so it’s like, ‘We did it! We went over it!’

“However, it was wrong, and I apologize to whoever I offended. It was not my intent to offend people.”

First-year Mets owner Steve Cohen tweetedthat he was “glad to hear our players apologizing to the fans” and asked supporters to “get behind our players today.”

The Mets aren’t the only club taking exception to home-cooked ridicule. Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco complained last week about booing from fans in Pittsburgh a couple of days before being released by the team.

“They have to understand that I’m a human being, too,” he said.

Of course, New York is its own beast. Players and coaches expect that underperforming stars in the Big Apple will hear about it from fans.

“Here, I have a lot of respect,” Lindor said. “People are very honest and they let you know.”

Mets fan Will Gregory, 15, said before the game that he wished Báez handled the boos with as much grace as Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Gregory — standing with friends near the players’ entrance seeking autographs — said he respected Stanton for acknowledging the fans’ right to boo.

“He took it a lot differently, saying that, ‘We need to be better,’” Gregory said. “But you know, we’re New Yorkers, and that’s how (Báez) is going to be received if he plays bad. So, if he doesn’t want to get booed, he should just play better.”

Rojas said he didn’t know the meaning of the thumbs-down gesture until Báez’s comments Sunday.

“We’re being accountable for some of those decisions and that’s what I see in this group,” the manager said. “This is a group of guys that I think is accountable for their actions.

“We have leaders in there that have explained how the media, the fans, everything is here,” he added. “And myself, I have always told the guys how accountable we’ve got to be.”

A four-time All-Star, Lindor was acquired from Cleveland over the offseason in the first major move for the team since Cohen purchased the franchise. Lindor signed a $341 million, 10-year deal to remain in New York, but he has been jeered often during a season in which he is hitting .224 with 11 homers and a .686 OPS.

He was hopeful the gesture wouldn’t spoil his relationship with the fan base he is committed to through 2031.

“I hope this doesn’t stick around because it wasn’t meant to offend anybody, to disrespect nobody,” he said. “This is just a time of trying to pick each other up. We’re going through a rough time, and it was a gesture to pick each other up.”

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