Second baseman homers twice, posts his 500th career RBI in hometown return
By Bob Cohn
Special to MLB.com |
PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker masked his pain and disappointment -- at least to the public -- after his trade from the Pirates to the Mets in December 2015. Friday at PNC Park, the hometown kid was equally as skilled at suppressing his joy.
"I just see it as kind of another game," the Mets' second baseman said after hitting two home runs and driving in four runs against his old team, the team he cheered for and then played for, to help lead the Mets, to an 8-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.
As Mets starter Jacob deGrom spun a brilliant outing (8 1/3 innings, one run, 10 strikeouts, one walk), Walker, who is 31 and will be a free agent after the season, exceeded 500 RBIs (he has 501) with his fifth career two-homer game but his first at PNC Park. For the legion of Pirates fans who hated the trade, this perhaps was fitting. Walker, true to his nature, never validated such a notion. Always personable, ever the diplomat, he refused to acknowledge that his one-man show was special in anything but a team context -- just as he withheld any overt negativity after the trade, which stemmed from the failure of Walker and the Pirates to agree on a contract extension.
"When you've played for quite a while, you stop worrying about personal accolades and you start focusing on playing winning baseball," he said.
Like last season when he returned to Pittsburgh for the first time, Walker received good vibes from the crowd. He flied out in his first at-bat in the first inning. The Mets made it 1-0 in the second and in the third, Walker drove a Chad Kuhl sinker into the right-field seats with Jose Reyes on base to make it 3-0.
Most of the announced 29,408 in attendance seemed to enjoy Walker's home run. He liked it, too, so much that he hit another, a solo shot in the fifth that chased Kuhl from the game. Walker's third hit, a bloop single in the sixth, drove in another run. Afterward, Mets manager Terry Collins noted that the carnival atmosphere last season when Walker came back for the first time had mostly dissipated.
"Every time I turned around he was being interviewed or put on camera or getting awards or meeting people," Collins said. "I think this time he came back and said, 'Hey, I just got to get ready to play.'"
Walker said, "I was able to kind of get ahead of things. I knew what to expect as far as kind of some of the off-the-field stuff. More than that I was much less anxious than I was last year to just kind of get things going. It was a little easier than last year.
"I didn't know how many tickets I was going to need, who was coming to batting practice, that type of stuff. More than anything I knew what to look for to get ahead of it as opposed to people texting me the day before, the day of. It was more of a headache than anything else. It was nice to be able to come today and not worry about who needs tickets, who needs this and that, who to accommodate, that type of stuff."
After undergoing surgery for a herniated disk last September, Walker is just now getting back to form. He hit .195 in April but is 30-for-87 (.349) with four homers and 18 RBIs in May.
"Just swinging it better," he said. "I've always enjoyed hitting in this ballpark, especially as a left-handed hitter. You can lift the ball and hit that wall or find a way over it. My first multi-homer game here, I've had a few other ones, just a coincidence I guess."
Bob Cohn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh, and covered the Mets on Friday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.