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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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The Year of the Squirrel

Jeff McNeil went 8-for-8 on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field with two cycles and a sacrifice fly. In the field, he had six assists apiece from left, right, third and second, and recorded the final out of the game by bursting through the protective netting in front of the seats near first base to make a diving grab of Anthony Rizzo’s towering pop fly.

Or it just felt that way.

In actuality, McNeil and the Mets beat the Cubs, 5-4, taking the first Friday afternoon game they’ve played on the Near North Side since 2013, when our matinee idols were Matt Harvey and Marlon Byrd. This time the stars of the game were Jeff McNeil and Jeff McNeil. Supporting credit must be given to Brooks Pounders (winning pitcher who rescued Jason Vargas, who nearly had his head taken off by his own catcher, Tomás Nido, on a wayward throw to second), Michael Conforto (tying home run in the sixth), Seth Lugo (two scoreless innings of relief) and Edwin Diaz (a perfect ninth under the immediately impactful tutelage of relentlessly innovative pitching coach Phil Regan), but mostly it was McNeil.

Jeff started in right, where he made a fine catch with his back nearly up against the brick wall despite never having started in right at Wrigley or anywhere else; moved to left and engineered a key 7-4-5-4 putout of Rizzo when it appeared this back-and-forth affair was about to tilt back toward the Cubs; and kept the ball rolling as Mickey Callaway’s designated leadoff hitter, launching a two-run homer in the third to put the Mets up, 3-2, and singling to right in the seventh to drive in Adeiny Hechavarria with what proved the winning run. That last RBI was particularly sweet, as McNeil dueled Mike Montgomery to a full count before finding just the right pitch and just the right hole to ground it through.

The Cubs are the latest to learn you can’t stop McNeil — .341/.407/.491 — and you can barely hope to contain him. In this era of shifts that turn once-obvious hits into increasingly routine outs, Jeff is not so easily stymied. You can’t shift on him. You can’t discourage him. You can’t overlook him anymore. If you’re his manager, you can’t sit him and you don’t have to, because you can play this Squirrel anywhere and it’s not nuts to expect he’ll acquit himself confidently and competently. He’s got two outfield positions under his belt now to go with the two infield positions he handles just fine.

As a fan, you love when the player few in the outside world were fully aware of months before asserts himself fully for the first time. Like Brandon Nimmo last year. Like Edgardo Alfonzo a couple of decades ago. The radar might miss them but we don’t. To paraphrase from a Chicago-based movie of yore, the National League All-Star team can use a guy like Jeff. We can be pretty sure they’ll take his step brother-in-arms Pete Alonso because nobody can miss what Pete does every couple of games. Pete’s hit 25 home runs, 17 of which are still orbiting Mars. Jeff’s hit twenty fewer, but what he lacks in power and profile he makes up for in glue. McNeil’s kept this team together day after day.

10 comments to The Year of the Squirrel

  • Greg Mitchell

    Slightly off topic (but not if Pete hits 3 dingers today, which he might): Yelich hit #28 last night and in days of yore one of the most exciting things for fans was the every-so-often “XXXXX is challenging Ruth or Maris mark at midseason.” Reggie did, Kong did it, even Stanton,numerous others before the staggering total seemed like Mt. Everest. But PEDs wrecked all that. No one who did not massively cheat has hit 60 yet, so I still consider Rog and Babe as the record holders. But you won’t see any of those cute daily comparison boxes on your sports page or site. What a shame.

  • JoeyBaguhDonuts

    We’re in summer now and Jeff McNeil, a homegrown starting player on the NY Mets, is batting .341 in his first full season.

    Have a happy day.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    The way McNeil performed yesterday, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he took the mound in the 9th for the save. It’s also pretty amazing how Brooks Pounders has done, a lot better than any of the Jacob Rhame clones that had been obtained for players with expiring contracts.

    I’m also curious to see whether the guy that masqueraded as Chris Flexen the other night in Atlanta can pitch competently again.

  • Michael in CT

    And on top of everything else, squirrel has that unique batting style, choking up a few inches on a knob-less bat. You’ve got to love this guy.

  • Henry J Lenz

    I propose a new stat for McNeil: SHS avg. Situational hitting success. Count every AB where you advance a runner from 1st or 2nd, or score a runner from 3rd. Hits, Fielder’s choice, Bunt, Sac fly, etc. Maybe add each time you go the other way against the shift. (Loved Carpenters bunt double for StL) Go 0 for 4 but move the runner over 3 times and your avg is .750. Give me guys like that vs the ones that usually strikeout and popup in big spots.

  • Dave

    A reminder for everyone who clings to the prospect ratings and rankings…who’s got a 55 curve ball or 60 power, or who’s a top 5 or a top 10 prospect…neither Jeff McNeil nor Jacob deGrom were considered top prospects that anyone needed to keep an eye on.

  • eric1973

    And Albert Puhols was drafted in the 13th Round, #401.

  • Lenny65

    Anyone getting a 1996 vibe here? A few offensive juggernauts putting together remarkable seasons while surrounded with a lot of garbage and a terrible manager presiding over the mess…very 96-ish IMO.