NEW YORK- If there were ever an individual in the Mets' lineup in need of a big hit, it's Jeff McNeil, who has endured a major disappointment of a season.
And on Sunday night, McNeil came through with just that, as he blasted a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the seventh inning off Kyle Gibson to help the Mets snap a five-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Phillies.
For McNeil, this was his seventh homer of the year, and his first since August 1, which occurred 148 at-bats ago. And he couldn't have picked a better time to re-discover his power stroke, as it ultimately led to a crucial victory for his squad.
"It was a changeup. I was looking for something to drive. He was throwing a lot of sinkers tonight," said McNeil of Gibson. "He threw me one on the first pitch and I was mad I didn't hit it. Thankfully, he threw it again and I didn't miss it."
Prior to this 417.5 foot bomb to right field, McNeil produced a hard-hit single in the bottom of the fifth as well. With these two knocks combined, McNeil had his second multi-hit performance in his last four games. He also recorded three-hits in a game earlier in the week as well.
"It felt really good," said McNeil of his game-winning homer. "Obviously, not the season I wanted this year. Gonna try to finish strong, feeling good at the plate. Hopefully we can build on these last few days and continue it into the final few weeks of the season."
This recent stretch is a good sign for the 29-year-old, who has looked like a shell of the .319 career hitter that entered the 2021 season. To be fair, he did strain his hamstring in May, which kept him on the IL for five weeks. But in 111 games, McNeil is slashing an anemic .252/.318/.364 with a .683 OPS, seven home runs and 34 RBIs, which are all well below his career norms.
"I've done it for three years. I've done it over 1,000 at-bats. I know I'm a very good hitter," McNeil said. "A few hundred at-bats doesn't make me a bad hitter at all. I just haven't had the results.
"It's a year I will try to forget about, but also learn from," he said. "[I learned how to] Deal with adversity, not letting at-bats snowball into bad weeks. I know I did a good job of that the last couple years. I had some bad days but I didn't let it turn into a few bad weeks."
With Brandon Nimmo returning from a hamstring strain on Friday, and Kevin Pillar swinging a hot bat, McNeil's playing time was put in jeopardy, as he has been struggling offensively.
But tonight reminded us of the player he is capable of being. A clutch hitter, who makes contact at an impressive rate.
If the Mets are going to turn things around next season, they will need Jeff McNeil to revert back to his 2018-20 form, where he made his first All-Star appearance in '19. And tonight, he showed us a glimpse of once again being that player.
"It's nice to see him swing the bat like he did tonight," said manager Luis Rojas. "That's the Jeff McNeil we all know...He's so talented with the bat.
"He can get hot. Right now, we definitely need that," said Rojas, who feels McNeil has showed more balance at the plate recently in order to drive the ball, which is why he believes he can get back to his old self moving forward.
Not only was this the big hit McNeil needed, but it was also the big hit the Mets' offense has been often lacking in the second-half.
"It was a big hit," said Rojas of McNeil's homer. "Those big hits showed up a lot in the first-half [of the season] to win a lot of one-run games. It hasn't shown up lately, and tonight, it showed up from Jeff.
"The heroic home run tonight from Jeff, it was special. We were celebrating it and it was a really good night for him," said Rojas. "But still, as a team, we have to do a better job with runners in scoring position I think. We gotta score more runs."
The Mets finally won a one-run ball game, an area they have had an extremely tough time in as of late. They are now 73-77 on the season and 5.5 games back in the NL East with 12 games remaining.
Loup Tag Team
Along with McNeil's clutch long ball, lefty reliever Aaron Loup continued his historic season by coming up big when his team needed him the most.
First, Loup escaped a bases loaded jam by getting NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper to groundout to keep the score tied in the top of the seventh.
According to Loup, he was more than a little charged up to face a hitter of Harper's caliber with the game on the line.
"I love facing the best guys in the lineup because I feel like that brings out the best in me and it's always a good challenge," said Loup.
And after McNeil's homer gave the Mets a one-run lead, Loup worked around a two-out bloop single to complete a scoreless eighth.
Despite manager Luis Rojas' recent tendency to not push his relievers more than one inning, citing arm care, the Mets had no choice but to let Loup stay on, after starter Rich Hill lasted 4.2 innings, and given the fact that they already used Jeurys Familia, Trevor May, and Seth Lugo in this contest.
Not to mention, Loup tossed just eight pitches in the seventh when he entered for May with two-outs.
This move ultimately paid off, as Loup was lockdown, going 1.1 shutout innings, while giving up one hit and one walk to go along with a strikeout. He also lowered his ERA to an astounding 1.00 on the year.
With only 12 games left to go, Loup has a strong chance to become the only reliever in Mets history to post a sub-1.10 ERA with at least 50 innings pitched in a season. But he also has an opportunity to finish with a sub-1.00 ERA as well.
"I think it'd be a great accomplishment," said Loup of having the possibility to accomplish this feat. "I've had a great year, and I think to finish under 1.00 would be the icing on the cake, I guess you could say."
Loup is set to become a free agent after the season comes to a close, and he has made it clear that he'd love to stay with the Mets.
"I'd love to come back," Loup said. "I've had a blast playing here. I've had fun with the guys all year long and I've had a great year, so I see no reason not to [return]."