NEW YORK — With fans at Citi Field for the first time in 557 days, Michael Conforto and the New York Mets got some serious home cooking.
Even the umpire knew it.
Jeff McNeil launched a tying homer in the ninth inning on his 29th birthday and the Mets were handed the winning run on a disputed hit by pitch for a bizarre 3-2 victory over Miami in their home opener Thursday.
“We caught a little break,” McNeil said.
With the bases loaded and one out, a scuffling Conforto stuck out his right elbow pad just enough to get grazed by a 1-2 breaking ball from Marlins closer Anthony Bass that appeared to be in the strike zone.
Plate umpire and crew chief Ron Kulpa at first signaled strike, then quickly ruled Conforto was hit by the pitch. Conforto headed to first base as Luis Guillorme scored and the Mets celebrated a fortuitous comeback win.
“That one there, makes a clear move to get hit, try to get hit. But for me I guess the tough part is, you can’t really tell on the replay if it hits him or not,” Miami manager Don Mattingly said. “And I guess the toughest part is, it’s just a strike. Kind of that simple. You would think all the replay we do, that you could say that ball’s a strike. I wonder what happens when they put the automated strike zone in?”
Mattingly and his players argued with Kulpa before the umps went to a replay review that lasted 58 seconds. The call was upheld.
“It’s one of those plays where it looked like the guy was hit,” Kulpa told a pool reporter. “The guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone. I should have called him out.”
According to baseball rules, if a batter is plunked by a pitch in the strike zone, it’s a strike and not a hit by pitch.
According to replay regulations, though, whether the pitch was in the strike zone or the batter made any attempt to evade is not subject to video review. Those are umpire judgment calls, and only whether the ball touched the batter is reviewable.
“He didn’t get hit by a pitch - he got hit by a strike. That’s the thing, he went to call it, and then he says it hit him,” Mattingly lamented. “So if it’s a strike, how can it be a hit by pitch?”
Conforto said he felt the ball graze his elbow guard but “knew there was gonna be some controversy.”
“Our first base coach was yelling at me to get down there, touch the base and let’s get out of here,” he recalled. “A win’s a win. It’s over. But obviously, I’d like to use the bat next time for sure.”
The official explanation from the replay supervisor in Manhattan was: “After viewing all relevant angles, the Replay Official definitively determined that the ball struck the batter. The call is confirmed, it is a hit by pitch.”
“It sounds like we have to move on,” Mattingly said.
Edwin Díaz (1-0) worked a hitless inning in his first outing of the season.
Bass (0-2) has blown both his save chances with the Marlins (1-6).
McNeil homered leading off the ninth, sending a 3-1 pitch into the second deck in right field for his first hit of the season after an 0-for-10 start and 17 hitless at-bats dating to last year. He flipped his bat in excitement and turned to the Mets’ bench before rounding the bases.
“Never bat-flipped before,” McNeil said. “All adrenaline.
“Definitely one of my biggest moments as a Met right there,” he explained. “I was pretty pumped up. And then, as soon as it left the bat I knew it, and just to hear the crowd erupt again was pretty incredible.”
Moments later from the dugout, Pete Alonso revved up the sold-out crowd of 8,492, with capacity limited to 20% at Citi Field due to COVID-19 regulations, as the Mets rallied.
“It was louder than I expected,” McNeil said.
Guillorme reached on a pinch-hit infield single with one out and advanced to third when Brandon Nimmo (three hits) laced his second double of the day.
Francisco Lindor, who went 1 for 3 and scored in his home debut with the Mets, was intentionally walked to load the bases. Lindor gestured emphatically to spur on Conforto, who stranded nine runners while going 0 for 5 during Wednesday’s loss at Philadelphia and drew boos from the home fans when he grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
His next time up, Conforto found a questionable way to drive in the decisive run.
“I’m still kind of a little befuddled on what happened,” Marlins catcher Chad Wallach said. “Never seen that before.”
Corey Dickerson hit a tying double and Jesús Aguilar had a go-ahead single in the sixth against Taijuan Walker, who held Miami hitless until the fifth inning of his Mets debut.
Marlins center fielder Starling Marte made a leaping catch in front of the fence, holding Dominic Smith to a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the fifth.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Going into the ninth, New York had managed only four hits against four pitchers.
Marlins: C Jorge Alfaro sat out with tightness in his left hamstring.
Mets: RHP Dellin Betances went on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder impingement. RHP Trevor Hildenberger was selected to the major league roster and added to the bullpen. … Jonathan Villar started at 3B for J.D. Davis, who missed his second consecutive game with a bruised left hand.
Marlins: LHP Trevor Rogers (0-1, 4.50 ERA), drafted 13th overall in 2017, takes the ball Saturday for his ninth career start. The 23-year-old Rogers made his big league debut at Citi Field last August and earned his only win there six days later. He allowed two runs over nine innings against the Mets last season, striking out 11.
Mets: With the day off Friday, the Mets are skipping a fifth starter and going back to ace Jacob deGrom on regular rest when the three-game series resumes Saturday.
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