With lead in NL batting race, McNeil sits in Mets' finale
By MIKE FITZPATRICK
NEW YORK (AP) With a four-point lead in the big league batting race, Jeff McNeil was not in the New York Mets' starting lineup Wednesday for their regular-season finale against Washington.
Mets manager Buck Showalter said it was his decision to sit McNeil as New York prepped for a wild-card playoff series versus the San Diego Padres that begins Friday night.
"Wouldn't put that on him," Showalter said. "The most important thing is Friday. Everything else takes second."
Showalter, however, acknowledged McNeil could come off the bench if he needed a hit or two to hold off Los Angeles Dodgers star Freddie Freeman for the National League batting crown.
"I don't trust my math well enough to - I got some help. Don't want to be wrong," Showalter said, drawing a laugh. "So at least I'll have somebody to blame it on, even though I'll have to wear it."
McNeil was leading the majors with a .326 average after playing both ends of a doubleheader Tuesday and going 3 for 8 with a home run and a walk against the Nationals.
New York was eliminated from the NL East race during the second game when first-place Atlanta beat Miami. But even after Showalter pulled most of his regulars with a large lead, McNeil remained in the game and flied out twice in rainy conditions.
Freeman was at .322 after going 0 for 4 on Tuesday night versus Colorado. He was in the Dodgers' lineup Wednesday and needed to go 4 for 4 or better to top McNeil.
Los Angeles had already clinched the NL West title and home-field advantage through the World Series. Freeman began the season finale four hits short of 200.
New York was originally scheduled to start 10 minutes before the Dodgers' home game against the Rockies - but the first pitch of the Nationals-Mets game was delayed. Rain was falling at Citi Field, where the tarp was covering the infield, and lightning was in the area.
McNeil has acknowledged he'd love to win the batting title, and Tuesday night he called the late-season chase "a little nerve-wracking" but "kind of fun."
"It's the only award I can really look forward to. I'm never going to lead the majors in home runs, and you know, stuff like that," he said. "So it's kind of the one that's attainable for me."
McNeil was trying to become the first Mets player to lead the majors in hitting. Jose Reyes is the only previous player in franchise history to win an NL batting crown, when he hit .337 in 2011.
Reyes drew criticism that year when he opened the season finale with a bunt single, then left the game to protect his lead.
Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams famously played both games of a doubleheader on the last day of the 1941 campaign when sitting out would have secured a .400 batting average. Williams went 6 for 8 to finish at .406, making him the last major leaguer to hit .400.
But players sitting out on the final day of a season to preserve individual statistics or achievements is hardly unheard of - especially when resting for the playoffs.
McNeil is riding a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .465 (20 for 43) with eight multi-hit games since Sept. 23.
He was hitting .287 entering play on July 30, leaving him far behind Freeman (.319) and St. Louis slugger Paul Goldschmidt (.334). But the 30-year-old McNeil, a two-time All-Star, has batted .378 since to Freeman's .327 and Goldschmidt's .288.
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Updated October 5, 2022