Thumbs down

Mets finally win a series, but no one notices

Good Morning,

The good news is the Mets won two straight, taking a series from the lowly Nationals over the weekend, culminating in yesterday’s 9-4 win.

The, uh, not-so-good news? Mets players are unhappy that their fans have been booing them, and so they decided to send a message back. Javy Báez explained that when they do a thumbs-down signal after a hit, that’s the players booing the fans as payback. LFGM!

We’ll break down this unusual turn of events, and catch you up on the latest news. But first, let’s recap last night’s action.

⚾️ IN SHORT: Before the action last night, there was an actual game. Tylor Megill returned to form, giving up two runs on just one hit and striking out five over five innings. Javier Báez and Jonathan Villar hit two-run homers. Villar and Pete Alonso each had three-hit games, and Francisco Lindor added a two-run double in the eighth to provide enough insurance for Luis Rojas to turn to Heath Hembree for the ninth (and give Edwin Diaz a night off). The Mets beat the Nationals 9-4. [Box Score]

🔑 KEY MOMENT: After the Nationals went ahead 2 to 1 in the top of the fourth, Báez hit a monster, two-run shot into the second deck to put the Mets ahead for good.

3 TAKEAWAYS

MEGILL BOUNCES BACK: After giving up four home runs in his last start against the Giants, there was some concern that Megill might be feeling run down in his first big league season. The rookie looked sharp yesterday, making just one mistake pitch to slugger Josh Bell after pitching around Juan Soto.

VILLAR IN LEADOFF SPOT: It’s a small sample size, but Villar appears to be taking to the leadoff spot. In two games, he’s 5-for-9 with a home run, 2 RBI and 3 runs scored. He is also, surprisingly, second on the team in HR with 15 (not counting Báez, who hit most of his blasts with the Cubs).

RUNNERS SCORE FROM SCORING POSITION: The Mets went 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position, good for a .364 average. How about that.

NEXT UP: The Mets have an off day today before a twin bill against the Marlins on Tuesday. They’re set to resume an old suspended game with a runner on first and one out in the top of the first. That game will continue as a nine-inning game, and the nightcap will be limited to seven innings. Taijuan Walker (7-9, 3.82 ERA) is expected to pitch game one and Trevor Williams (4-2, 4.54 ERA) will start game two.


👎 THUMBS DOWN

👻 BOO-HOO: Well, we now know why players including Kevin Pillar and Francisco Lindor have been using the thumbs down signal when they reach base:

“It’s to let [the fans] know that when we don’t get success, we’re going to get booed,” Javy Báez said, indicating it was his idea to use the thumbs down gesture. “So they’re going to get booed when we get success.”

🤦‍♂️ COME AGAIN?We’re not machines,” Báez said. “We’re going to struggle. We’re going to struggle seven times out of 10. And, you know, it just feels bad. When I strike out and I get booed, it doesn’t really get to me. But I want to let them know that when we have success, we’re going to do the same thing to let them know how it feels. If we win together, then we’ve got to lose together, and the fans are a big part of it. They’ve got to be better. I play for the fans. And I love the fans. If they’re going to do that, they’re just putting more pressure on the team, and that’s not what we want.”

🔨 NOT TOLERATED: Shortly after Báez’s comments, Sandy Alderson issued a statement to indicate “the Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans.” Alderson said “fans at Citi Field have every right to express their own disappointment” and said he will be “meeting with the players and staff to convey this message directly.”

  • BOXED IN? It will be interesting to see how the Mets enforce this message. Does this mean players will be fined for non-compliance? What if players use the thumbs down gesture again? Sure, the Mets seem out of the playoff hunt, but can they afford to bench players over a conflict with the fans? Is this an over-reaction to a silly gesture? Do they want to continue to give this story legs? We will discuss this much more in a bit.

How the team is reacting

😌 ROJAS: “Javy being a new guy here and getting to know our fan base, and some of the reactions that our fan base has, I just see it as something he’s learning,” manager Luis Rojas said. “They have the right to react however they want," Rojas continued. “Especially Mets fans, New York fans, this market, this city that knows baseball […] They have the right to react however they want. We’ve got to understand where they’re coming from.”

👌 PILLAR: Kevin Pillar — who was one of the players using the thumbs down gesture — had a few different reactions to fans on Twitter.

Positive:

Not-so-positive:

🪓 MAY: Trevor May was asked if he would ever give a thumbs down to the fans, to which he responded:

👥 STRO: Backing up his friend and long-time teammate Pillar, Marcus Stroman tweeted:

🤦 UNCLE STEVE: Steve Cohen weighed in late last night with his characteristic Twitter tone:

🍎 METS LEGENDS: Mike Piazza and Johan Santana, two other superstars traded to the Mets in recent decades, shared earlier this spring how they dealt with New York crowds:


🌡 POSITIVE TEST: With all of the booing talk, it’s easy to forget yesterday started with the news that Noah Syndergaard tested positive for Covid-19. Syndergaard is already vaccinated and reportedly asymptomatic. He was scheduled to make his second rehab start on Sunday. It’s unclear how long this will keep him sidelined.

✌️ RELEASED: Recently-acquired outfielder Josh Reddick opted out of his minor league contract and was released. He was batting .182 with Syracuse over 11 games.

🤕 INJURIES: Tomás Nido returned from the IL on Friday, but did not play on Saturday or Sunday due to soreness in the same thumb that kept him out for two weeks. He was available to pinch-hit.

  • MCCANN: Meanwhile, James McCann caught four innings of a simulated game over the weekend and should be ready “soon” after dealing with back spasms that he partly blames on the team’s cross-country flight after playing in a Sunday night game.

  • PERAZA: José Peraza should also be back soon, according to Manager Luis Rojas. The utility man has been out with a fractured middle finger since July.

3️⃣6️⃣ RETIRED: The Mets retired Jerry Koosman’s number 36 during a ceremony at Citi Field on Saturday. He joins Tom Seaver (No. 41) and Mike Piazza (No. 31) as the third player to have his number retired.

  • KOOSMAN: “I’m thankful that they thought so much of me to retire my number,” Koosman said. “I know I’m joining a great crew that they had their numbers retired. I don’t know if I deserve it. I guess we are going to get on with it.”


A mutual boo-fest

In the early ‘90s, Bobby Bonilla hated Mets fans’ booing so much, he famously wore an earpiece to drown them out. Three decades later, that “controversy” feels quaint and charming.

With some of the team’s biggest stars (Francisco Lindor and Javy Báez, plus Kevin Pillar) “booing” the fans at yesterday’s game, the franchise now has several players and its fans at odds, with the arrows going in both directions. And as Steve Cohen well knows, a business whose product and customer-base are misaligned, is not an ideal business.

Before we go further, let’s be clear that almost all booing is embarrassing to the fan base and counter-productive. It still feels cringe-worthy that the Queens crowd at Shea booed Mike friggin’ Piazza his first year (when he had a 1.024 OPS). Most players are trying their hardest, and getting booed doesn’t make the team better; it just causes the players to dislike playing at home (as we’ve seen this week). The one function it does seem to perform is for fans to vent and maybe achieve catharsis.

Are there any times it’s warranted? If a player is clearly not trying — routinely failing to run out a ball, say — or has been hostile to the fans (one player called them stupid back in 2002), then maybe you can see it. The former is certainly not the case here. Does anyone really think Michael Conforto and Lindor haven’t been trying? But now we have a situation where the latter scenario is occurring, and it’s not hard to imagine things escalating.

So, the Mets’ players are right — the booing is unpleasant, it doesn’t help things and it’s unwarranted. But “booing” the fans back seems pretty weak, too. (If the players wanted to express themselves and exercise solidarity, they could have simply given each other a thumbs up after a hit to cancel out the booing. That could have been spun into a positive.)

What we learned from Sandy Alderson’s strong statement last night is that Steve Cohen’s approach will be thatthe customer is always right.” The argument goes like this: Whether you like the booing or not, the fans have a right to do it. If a bunch of people buy Highlanders and then scream at Toyota because they’re found to be defective, Toyota’s senior employees don’t get to just attack and curse out the customers. That is, they can do that, but it’s hard to imagine it working out well for the employees or company. (Note: This isn’t to compare human beings to cars, or to take an easy anti-player stance. The players in this scenario are the auto executives and the car, or product, is the on-field performance that fans pay to watch. This is just an effort to explain how the Mets franchise appears to be handling this PR mess.)

Whichever side you fall on in this debate — and again, there’s an argument that the “booing” by both parties is lame — one thing is clear: It’s a nightmare for Cohen. When you have a product at odds with your customer base, the business suffers… which is likely why Alderson’s statement skewed so heavily in support of the fans (i.e., customers), rather than the players (i.e., labor). That statement was a business document all the way.

You might say this can all go away when Baez leaves to pursue free agency in a month. But what about the $341 million investment in Francisco Lindor? It’s been obvious for months that the star shortstop hasn’t been too happy here. But the two sides are effectively married for the next decade. Even if Lindor waived his non-trade clause, how many teams would want a contract that now seems out of whack with the market?

The best-case scenario for both the franchise and Lindor — the leader and future of the organization, whether either side is thrilled about it or not — is to find a way to turn things around with the fan base. Luis Rojas often gets unfair heat from fans (is it really his fault that the 2nd and 3rd leading home-run hitters on this team are Jonathan Villar and Kevin Pillar?). But off-the-field activity, like the tenor of the clubhouse and conduct towards the fans, does seem to be one of his strengths and more like something he can help influence.

Lindor was able to turn an early-season spat with Jeff McNeil into a light moment about raccoons. Perhaps he can use those same diplomacy skills and charisma again, to lower the temperature here as well.

And then there’s Pillar, whom fans rallied behind after his inspiring return to the lineup from a beaning to a face (cheering him all season long, despite a .643 OPS). He tried to downplay the booing in a tweet last night, but we’ll see how that plays with the droves of fans that have had his back.

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🔗 Mets, Javier Baez making colossal mistake waging war with fans, by Ian O’Connor, NY Post: “Javier Baez had his young son Adrian on his lap, and the kid was wearing a Mets cap, a Mets jersey, and some eye black, just like his dad. If this had all the makings of a Zoom-room charm offensive, well, it turned out to be anything but.”

🔗 Mets’ digit-pointing just the beginning of Steve Cohen’s fix-it list, by Britt Ghiroli, The Athletic ($): “Memo to Báez and the Mets: You need those fans, wild or not. Ambivalence doesn’t sell tickets and jerseys. Just like the constant finger-pointing doesn’t sell the narrative of a fixed franchise.”

And.. we leave you with this, um, subtle back page from New York’s hometown paper:

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