Mets beat rats, er, Nats after rodent runs on field in Washington

WASHINGTON — Most of the Mets offense may be cold after a wacky schedule that saw them play on just two of the past five days. But Jeff McNeil is at least one hitter who hasn’t lost his mojo.

McNeil, the Amazin’s best hitter and the only regular starter batting above .300, erased the lineup’s goose egg and tied the game in the sixth inning with a bases-loaded two-run double that skipped just past Nationals third baseman Josh Bell. McNeil’s penchant for getting on base helped the Mets beat the Nationals, 4-2, in the series opener on Tuesday at Nationals Park.

“I’m just trying not to do too much,” McNeil said of his approach at the plate. “The main goal there is to put the barrel on the ball, get one run in for sure, and anything after that is just a bonus.”

Maybe the Mets got some good luck in the sixth inning, when a rat ran on the field during James McCann’s at-bat, which ended with him hitting a sacrifice fly that pushed across the go-ahead run.

But the Mets don’t need luck to win games this season; they’re just playing hard and finding ways to come out on top. The Amazin’s won the series opener on Tuesday for the eighth time out of 10 games. And their squirrely second baseman, who has also seamlessly played 12 games in left field this year, has a lot to do with the team’s success.

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the Mets (21-10) this season knows that McNeil’s performance on Tuesday night was par for the course for the 2022 version of the second baseman. McNeil has 12 multi-hit games, which ranks top 3 in MLB, has the best OPS (.865) on the Mets, and is 11th in the majors in batting average (.333).

McNeil’s one-out two-run double in the sixth inning moved Eduardo Escobar, who was on first, to third base and set up the go-ahead opportunity for the next batter, McCann. The Mets catcher cranked a sacrifice fly to right field as Escobar scooted home for the lead.

Mets manager Buck Showalter likes McNeil batting eighth – he’s hit in that bottom spot in the order in 13 out of the 29 games he’s played – but it’s becoming wiser for the skipper to slot him higher and, in that way, ensure McNeil receives more at-bats and opportunities to boost the offense.

“It’s like a pitcher with a lot of weapons,” Showalter said of McNeil. “He’s got a lot of weapons at the plate. He’s got a great feel for the barrel of the bat and he can hit ‘em where it’s pitched. He can maneuver the bat.”

The Mets offense had plenty of opportunities to score – they left 12 runners on base and went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. But when McNeil dug into the box with the bases loaded, he wasn’t sweating it. The second baseman has a .370 average and .989 OPS in 27 at-bats with runners in scoring position this season. He came through again in the series opener on Tuesday, proving that the Mets can still make offensive magic happen even when, as a group, they’re not producing.

The Nationals (10-21), who are not very good, lost a game after leading for the 11th time this season, which is approximately a third of their schedule thus far. The Mets have won 12 of their last 16 matchups against Washington dating back to Aug. 10, 2021.

“We’re playing some really good baseball,” McNeil said. “We definitely have to take care of those division series and games and we’ve been doing a really good job of that.”

On the flip side, Carlos Carrasco again excelled in his sixth start of the year.

The veteran right-hander hurled 6.2 quality innings, allowing two runs and striking out five while walking none across 83 efficient pitches. Carrasco, the Mets’ No. 4/5 starter, has eaten innings and kept the bullpen fresh in three of his last four outings.

Carrasco said he feels “free” this season compared to last, when he struggled with injury and recorded disappointing results. The righty has frequently mentioned his offseason elbow surgery, which has allowed him to effectively execute his five-pitch arsenal again.

While fans may expect that kind of production from the rotation’s top three arms in Tylor Megill, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt, Carrasco’s longevity and effectiveness through his first handful-plus of starts has been a welcome development for the team’s Jacob deGrom-less pitching staff.

Much of that effort stems from the team’s next-man-up mentality, paired with its ability to stay balanced after wins and avoid getting overconfident about just how well the Mets are playing so far.

“Whatever team we play out there, we have to play hard no matter who we’re playing,” Carrasco said. “This game can change so quick. You guys saw (last Thursday) in the beginning, the Phillies were 7-1 and we won the game. This game changes so much and that’s why we have to play hard.”

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