Eduardo Escobar three-run homer continues hot September

Anthony DiComo

By Anthony DiComo

NEW YORK — About three months ago, following a particularly unproductive game in Houston, Eduardo Escobar gave an interview regarding his struggles in his first season with the Mets. Through an interpreter, Escobar said he understood “the frustrations of the fans,” then assured them that he was doing his best.

“One day,” he continued, “I’m going to give them the reasons to cheer for me.”

It did not happen over the remainder of June, nor too frequently in July or August, either. But September has been different for Escobar. Much different. His three-run homer in the Mets’ 5-1 win over the Pirates on Saturday night at Citi Field was Escobar’s sixth of the month, raising his batting average to .393 and his OPS to 1.230 since the flip of the calendar. Upon returning from a brief stint on the injured list, Escobar reverted to the switch-hitting power threat the Mets always knew he could be, at times singlehandedly keeping a scuffling offense afloat.

“At the end of the day, that’s what a team is,” Escobar said through interpreter Alan Suriel. “Sometimes, when a player’s not playing that well, someone else picks them up. I’ve been trying to be consistent all year long, but there was a point in the beginning of the season when I wasn’t [as] consistent. All glory to God. God’s timing is perfect, and now is the perfect time.”

Following a Pete Alonso hustle double to lead off the second inning and a Daniel Vogelbach two-out walk, Escobar launched a Bryse Wilson fastball a projected 426 feet into the visiting bullpen in right-center.

Only three Major Leaguers have more home runs in September than Escobar, and Aaron Judge isn’t one of them. Escobar nearly homered again in the fourth inning, sending a ball to the warning track, and he later added a walk and a single to reach base three times.

Half an inning after his homer, Escobar continued his steady defensive play at third base, making a spinning throw to deny Michael Chavis a leadoff hit. In that manner, Escobar helped Chris Bassitt complete six scoreless innings in a win, reducing the Mets’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth to four. New York can complete that goal as soon as Monday.

“We always joke he’s a team captain,” Bassitt said of Escobar. “Obviously his locker neighbor over there, [Francisco] Lindor, is the big guy on our team. But Escobar’s huge for us. A great pickup on and off the field. He really stabilized a lot of stuff.”

No single factor led to Escobar’s struggles earlier in the summer. Hot from both sides of the plate in April (and the author of a cycle as recently as early June), Escobar cooled off considerably as the weather warmed. Injuries were part of it, as he missed time due to a dizzy spell early this summer and to an oblique strain in August. By that point, he had already lost most of his left-handed at-bats to Luis Guillorme and Brett Baty, a pair of third basemen who wound up suffering injuries of their own.

When speaking about Escobar, manager Buck Showalter and hitting coach Eric Chavez have alluded to off-field matters, suggesting that baseball was not always the only thing of importance happening in Escobar’s life. But in his hours at the ballpark, Escobar worked tirelessly to fix his performance, relying on video to shift his swing mechanics — particularly in his setup — back to how they looked back in April. He is now crouching lower at the plate, allowing him to uncoil his 5-foot-10 frame with more violence.

Given the presences of Guillorme and Baty, no guarantee existed that Escobar was ever going to return to his everyday role. But Showalter has been insistent in repeating one of his favored mantras, that “water finds its level.” A 12-year veteran who averaged 28 home runs per year from 2017-21 (not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020 season), Escobar signed a two-year, $20 million contract last November in large part because of his track record, which included a 1.244 OPS against the Pirates — his highest versus any team entering play on Saturday.

In Showalter’s estimation, this hot streak was bound to occur eventually. For Escobar, it may be happening at precisely the right time.

“This kid can hit,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “If you don’t execute pitches to him and you make mistakes, he will do damage. And we have made mistakes to him.”

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