NEW YORK — For a moment on Saturday night, Seattle’s Jesse Winker insisted on playing the heel, on wearing the black hat and trolling all of Citi Field. The Mets, however, had an improbable answer: Patrick Mazeika was waiting to be the (cult) hero.
On a night with an hour-long rain delay, a gutsy effort from starting pitcher Chris Bassitt, and another hiccup from the New York bullpen, it was Mazeika, the next catcher up, who delivered the decisive blow in a 5-4 victory, jumping on a 97-mph fastball from Mariners reliever Andrés Muñoz in the seventh and yanking a solo shot into the seats in right field. The blast rekindled memories of Mazeika’s unlikely late-game magic in 2021. It helped the Mets stave off their first series loss of the year. It was, in some ways, of a theme: Another charmed moment as the Mets, 23-12, keep finding ways to rack up wins.
“Regardless of what it meant in the game, that’s why you get up in the morning,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You never know what the game has got in store for you.”
Mazeika’s heroics had come just a half-inning after Winker, a familiar Citi Field baddie, erased a 4-1 Mets lead in the top of the seventh. The former Reds outfielder tangled with reliever Chasen Shreve and came out the victor, hammering a three-run shot that sailed majestically into the night sky and caused the Mets’ bullpen to look mortal for a second straight night. Winker capped the home run by taking a leisurely stroll around the bases and executing a theatrical (and panoramic) wave to the crowd behind home plate. The drawn-out trot drew the ire of Shreve, who delivered some words in the direction of Winker. The Mets, however, found a better way to punch back when Mazeika went deep just minutes later.
“I think if the last few years have taught us anything,” Mazeika said, “it’s you gotta be ready for anything.”
Mazeika had joined the club Friday from Triple-A Syracuse after primary catcher James McCann sustained a broken left wrist. He found himself in the lineup just one day later, trying to stay on the same page as Bassitt, who spent much of the night shaking off pitches and trying to get the sequence right. At times, the pace was glacial. Bassitt conceded the optics were ugly but said the partnership would be smoother the next time out.
But if there’s one thing about Mazeika, it’s that he will not get flustered if he’s shoved into a big spot. Last May, he became the first player since at least 1920 to record multiple walk-off RBIs in his first four career games. Each walk-off, bizarrely, came on a fielder’s choice that did not get out of the infield. On Saturday, Mazeika did not register another walk-off. But he did hit a baseball much, much harder.
“I think we can say that was over 60 mph, over six feet,” Mazeika said.
Once the Mets wrangled back the lead, reliever Adam Ottavino tossed a scoreless eighth inning and closer Edwin Díaz slammed the door against his former team by striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth, recording his eighth save. The Mets returned to 11 games above .500, matching their high-water mark. Bassitt took the no-decision while allowing one earned run in 5 2/3 innings. Starling Marte finished 3-for-4 with three runs scored, which helped the Mets build a 4-0 lead before everything turned wild and the Mets turned to Mazeika.
“Big moment for our team,” Bassitt said.
In the moments after the victory, Mazeika considered the emotional swings of his previous two days. It had begun with an unexpected call. It ended with his second career home run. As he reflected on another clutch moment, he recalled a piece of advice presented last year by teammate Dom Smith, who offered a simple mantra for pinch-hitting. “You just gotta do it for one at-bat,” Smith said. That made sense, and soon enough, Mazeika had tried to extrapolate the thought into the rest of his game. He only had to think about the next pitch, the next at-bat, the next moment. Whatever came next would fall in line.
“Just embrace it,” Mazeika said.
On Friday, it meant stepping to the plate in the bottom of the seventh against Muñoz with nobody on and nobody out. It had not been a perfect night behind the plate, and Winker had threatened to ruin everything, but Mazeika saw one fastball and unleashed a compact swing, yanking the ball high and deep into the right field seats. As the ball sailed over the wall, Mazeika pointed one finger to the sky. Mark Canha pumped his fist and danced inside the dugout. The crowd let out a cathartic release, reveling in an improbable hero.
“That was a great moment for him, let alone the team,” Showalter said. “He ambushed a guy throwing 100 mph. We needed it.”
(Photo of Mazeika: Mike Stobe / Getty Images)