NEW YORK — On Keith Hernandez Day of all days, the Mets showed the Marlins precisely what happens when you don’t have good fundies.
A series of Miami miscues allowed New York to steal a 5-4 win in 10 innings on Saturday, some five hours after the Mets officially retired Hernandez’s No. 17 at Citi Field. Known as one of the most defensively sound first basemen in Major League history, Hernandez often comments on fundamentals — “fundies,” as he likes to call them — on SNY broadcasts.
Saturday, the Mets embodied Hernandez’s mantra, winning a game on a walk-off error with two outs in extra innings for the first time since the 1986 World Series Game 6.
“I’ll let everybody else kind of draw the correlations,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Some of the things that just go on, you just go, ‘Really?’ We kid about the baseball gods, but I don’t know sometimes.”
The Mets appeared in significant trouble in the top of the 10th, when the Marlins immediately grabbed a lead as shortstop Francisco Lindor’s throwing error on a Jon Berti infield single allowed the automatic runner to score from second base. But Tomás Nido subsequently picked Berti off second base, snapping a throw across the diamond despite understanding the low probability of turning it into an out. Although Nido’s throw was late, Lindor held the tag on Berti, who lost his balance and fell off the bag.
“We’re taught in the Minors to always throw the ball,” Nido said. “You never know what can happen on the other end.”
Fundies, indeed. After Colin Holderman escaped that inning without issue, the Mets struck out twice in a row to open the bottom of the 10th. Then came the chaos. With two outs, Nido hit a soft ground ball down the third-base line, where it scooted under Brian Anderson’s glove to allow automatic runner Mark Canha to score.
“That’s on me,” Anderson said. “I should have tried to get dirty and try to keep that ball in the infield and save a run there.”
The next batter, Brandon Nimmo, hit a tapper back to the mound. Already sprinting hard out of the box, Nimmo — long the modern embodiment of fundamental play in Flushing — only increased his effort when he saw pitcher Tanner Scott bobble the ball. He reached an elite sprint speed of 29.9 feet per second as he approached first base.
In desperation, Scott threw the ball away, which gave Nido an easy path home with the walk-off run.
“I normally run hard to first, so I didn’t really have to do anything different,” Nimmo said. “[I] really [tried] to put the pressure on and run as fast as I could to maybe just make the situation get the best of him there.”
As the Mets poured out of their dugout to swarm Nimmo, one could almost hear Hernandez’s audible sighs and groans from afar. An 11-time Gold Glover, Hernandez took pride in his ability not just to execute the fundamentals of his position, but to take advantage of other team’s mistakes. The 2022 Mets often seem constructed in his likeness, grabbing extra bases and making clubs pay for their errors. Saturday, first baseman Pete Alonso even literally showed up to the field in Hernandez’s image, wearing 1980s-style stirrups and sporting a mustache for the game.
“I’m pretty well aware of what he means,” said Alonso, who homered for the Mets’ first run in the fourth. “He means so much to this organization, especially for past players. He’s just super entrenched as one of those guys. When you think of Mets greats from the past, obviously No. 17 rings a bell.”
Afterward, Showalter laughed at the coincidental nature of the situation — that on Hernandez Day the Mets not only won a war of fundamentals, but also tied the game on a little roller down the (third-) base line. He joked that he would let media members use their own words to draw the parallels, which on this day did not seem so difficult to do. At least some of New York’s fundamental success has been due to Showalter, who preaches the mundane in ways that past managers did not. Lindor, who also homered, called it “Buck’s mentality.”
Of course, it was Hernandez’s mentality first, which Showalter well recognizes. This spring, he made a point of welcoming Hernandez around the batting cage during BP, believing it important to have his players interact more frequently with one of the franchise’s all-time greats. Hernandez repaid the favor during his pregame speech on Saturday, calling the 2022 Mets one of the most notable teams in recent franchise memory.
“You wanted to prove him right and say this was a team to be reckoned with,” Nimmo said. “We definitely wanted to try to pull this one out.”