NEW YORK — Citi Field had its supervillain. I needed a superhero.
During a half-inning Saturday night, Jesse Winker had fun, waving to the Citi Field crowd after his game-tying three-run home run in the top of the seventh. For years, Winker had stirred up the fan base in Queens. He was the last person the local public wanted to see succeed.
Only this time, the Mets had an answer for him. Patrick Mazeika, who gained a cult following last year for his multiple RBIs, smashed a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh to lead the Mets to a 5-4 victory over the Mariners. Two innings later, Edwin Diaz struck out Winker with a 101 mph fastball to end it.
“Obviously, it felt really good,” Mazeika said. “Big moment. Great team victory. It was also an electric crowd. Overall a great night.”
For hours, it didn’t look like things were going to end so well for the Mets. Only after a rain delay of one hour and eight minutes did Citi Field’s seating bowl begin to fill, as fans wiped down their plastic seats with paper towels. Many of those who stayed were nervous when starting pitcher Chris Bassitt loaded the bases in the first inning, allowed two more runners in the third and two more in the fifth. In the sixth, Bassitt gave up his first run. Halfway through that inning, he was out of the game.
Through it all, an advertised crowd of 37,140 remained noisy, largely due to Winker, a player who initially drew the county’s ire in 2019, when he made a game-ending catch for the Reds in front of a particularly tight section. lively fans. As he trotted off the field that day, Winker playfully waved to the Citi Field crowd, which returned the favor later in the series when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
With that, Winker became a persona non grata in Flushing, in the legacy of Chipper Jones and Chase Utley. As Bassitt said: “New York fans are a little bit different.” So when Winker hit his game-tying home run in the seventh, looking down before waving again to the crowd, the home fans, many of whom had sung to Winker earlier in the game, became agitated. So did reliever Chasen Shreve, who called out Winker for his slow jog around the bases, saying afterward that he “is a little over the top.”
Winker was more taken aback by the situation.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I love them,” Winker said of the Mets fan base. “They are an amazing group of people. They are very passionate about their team and their city. And from a guy who, born in upstate New York, huge fan of that football team there, I can understand the passion and I respect it. What we have going on is special.”
Mets fans could say the same about his relationship with Mazeika, a longtime organizational catcher who hit a pair of outfielder’s choice ground balls over a five-day stretch last season. Mazeika rejoined the Mets on Friday when James McCann went on the disabled list, and he was in the starting lineup the following night. During the first few innings of the game, Mazeika and Bassitt seemed to have trouble with their communication, having never worked on a game together. But none of that mattered when Mazeika stepped to the plate to lead off the seventh, throwing a 97 mph fastball on Andres Muñoz’s first pitch over the fence for a home run.
“If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that you have to be prepared for anything,” Mazeika said. “Just hug him. I will always be ready to play whenever. That mindset allowed me to go in and try to transition a little bit more smoothly.”
With Mazeika’s go-ahead homer on the books, the Mets had just one more challenge to overcome and, of course, it came in the form of Winker. After Diaz struck out the first two batters of the ninth inning, Winker put up more of a fight, fouling multiple 90+ mph sliders as the crowd hung on each one.
“I wanted to get him out,” Diaz said. “It was a great start for us. He got us in the seventh. I didn’t want to be the guy who gave up the game-tying home run, so I made sure my pitches were off-putting for him.”
Finally, on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Diaz hit a 101 mph fastball that got past Winker for the final out of the game. The villain had been defeated. The hero had prevailed. The latest chapter of the comics battle was complete.
“That’s why you get up in the morning,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You never know what the game has in store for you.”