Jeff McNeil and the New York Mets began their playoff journey Friday night with two heart-stopping wins. Can he go all the way?
After a 21-8 regular season in the “MLB The Show” players league, Jeff McNeil and the New York Mets earned the fourth-seed and a matchup against fifth-seed Dwight Smith Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles. With the playoffs starting, the league moved away from Twitch and onto national television.
That move came with some increased production value. Instead of a player streaming their thoughts live, the Fox Sports broadcast had three personalities. Both McNeil and Smith were on the broadcast along with MLB Network’s Robert Flores.
The broadcast team instead of a single player was a clear upgrade. Flores was able to call the game, give stats, and keep a conversation going between Smith Jr. and McNeil.
It made for a much better viewing experience. If MLB wants to run a league like this again, that’s how they have to do it. Bring in TV personalities to call the game with players. Maybe Gary Cohen calls games for McNeil and the Mets. That would make watching the game infinitely more enjoyable.
Of course, with the increased production value came increased pressure. It’s playoff time and that means it’s time to win or go home.
McNeil and the Mets sent Jacob deGrom to the mound in Game 1 of the series. The top of the first was mostly uneventful, as is to be expected with deGrom pitching. Smith Jr. was held without a run but did get a two-out base knock.
McNeil started things off in the bottom of the first after two quick outs. Smith Jr. walked Pete Alonso and gave up and RBI double to Robinson Cano. The inning ended when Cano tried to extend the double into a triple.
This is where things went haywire. The Fox Sports broadcast cut to commercial after the first inning and they didn’t stop play. By the time the commercial was over McNeil and Smith Jr. were already in the third inning.
Thankfully, those watching at home didn’t miss much as no runs were scored on either side in the second. Still, no playoff baseball should have ever been missed. That’s a huge gaffe on Fox Sports’ part, but they fixed the issue and didn’t repeat that mistake the rest of the night.
McNeil ignored his pitcher’s fatigue and sent deGrom out to pitch the third inning. It didn’t work for him as Chris Davis hit a leadoff home run to tie the game at one.
Dellin Betances relieved deGrom and stopped the bleeding. Betances was able to work around a base hit to keep things tied headed to the bottom of the third.
McNeil was set down 1-2-3 as Smith Jr. sent the game to extras. Smith Jr. took advantage. With one out in the top of the fourth, Chance Sisco doubled to give the Orioles a chance. Richie Martin came in as a pinch-runner, and he’d come around to score on a two-out RBI single from Rio Ruiz.
McNeil came up to the plate with his back up against the wall in the bottom of the fourth. He was able to keep his cool in late-inning situations all regular season and this was no different.
Alonso drew a one-out walk to bring the game-winning run up to the plate. In a surprise move, McNeil opted to bench his most clutch hitter, Robinson Cano, in favor of J.D. Davis. The move proved to be a stroke of genius, as Davis blasted the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence to give McNeil a 3-2 win. His fifth walk-off in his last three game days.
The McNeil-led Mets “traveled” to Baltimore just one win away from the semifinals. With Noah Syndergaard on the mound, things were looking good, but Smith Jr. had no plans on making things easy.
He mad this presence felt right from the get-go. He held McNeil hitless in the top of the first inning and then pounced on Thor early. Smith Jr. hit an RBI double with himself to take an early 1-0 lead. McNeil was forced to go to the bullpen early and was able to escape the inning without further damage due to poor baserunning.
McNeil answered right back in the top of the second. A leadoff home run from Robbie Cano tied the game. That would be the only damage the Mets would do in the second.
Things looked dire in the bottom half. A leadoff single and an error from Yoenis Cespedes put two on and nobody out. Despite the tough situation, McNeil was forced to roll with Seth Lugo due to the new three-batter minimum rule.
Good defense was able to bail McNeil out of the jam. Cano continued his amazing display by flashing the leather and starting a double play. With two outs and a runner on third, Lugo was able to induce a flyout from Jose Iglesias to fly out to escape the inning with the game still tied.
McNeil took control of the game in the top of third with the home run ball. Brandon Nimmo hit a pinch-hit solo shot to take the lead, and McNeil followed that with one of his own. Jeff wasn’t able to extend the lead any further than that, and took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the third.
Betances was called on to close the game. He sat down the first two batters with relative ease but walked Dwight Smith Jr. With his season on the line, Smith Jr. sent Pedro Severino to the plate. He spanked a line drive to deep left field that Nimmo was able to run down. So ended Dwight Smith Jr. and the Baltimore Orioles’ 2020 players league season.
That means Jeff McNeil is headed to the semifinals.
Playoff action continues on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FS1. McNeil will play a three-game set against the top-seed Blake Snell and the Tampa Bay Rays. The winner will head to the “MLB The Show” players league World Series.