Mets’ Jeff McNeil wins NL batting title while sitting on bench in Finals

NEW YORK – Jeff McNeil, kept out of the New York Mets starting lineup in their rain-delayed 9-2 win over Washington on Wednesday, has officially won the National League batting title after Freddie Freeman of the Los Angeles Dodgers failed in his attempt to pass McNeil on the last day of the regular season.

Mets manager Buck Showalter said it was his decision to seat McNeil as New York prepares for a playoff series against the San Diego Padres that begins Friday night.

“I wouldn’t force that on her,” Showalter said. “The most important thing is Friday. Everything else comes second.”

With a four-run lead in the big league batting run, McNeil came on defense in the eighth inning but didn’t come home and finished with a .326 average that was the highest in the majors – one run ahead. Freeman.

“One of my goals in baseball is to win a batting title,” said McNeil, who topped .300 three times before dropping to .251 last year. “I wanted to be who I am again.”

Needing to go 4-on-4 against the Colorado Rockies to catch McNeil, Freeman doubled and homered on his first two shots, but a steal to the warning lane in center field in fifth ended the game. his hopes.

“I was definitely paying attention to what was going on,” McNeil said, watching Freeman during the rain delay. “I saw Freddie’s first hit in the middle, didn’t watch the second hit. … Hits a home run and you get a little nervous, he swings the stick well, and with Freddie Freeman, four hits , that’s normal for him. On his third at bat, a lot of us were sitting in the locker room watching him. He put a good swing on it and was lucky he had some left one in the park.

Freeman hit .325 for the season and finished with 199 hits and 100 RBIs. Freeman’s 393-foot drive to the left tied the game 1-all with two outs in the third. He scored a single in a run in the seventh.

“I was close,” Freeman said. “I gave him a run.”

McNeil becomes the first Mets player to lead the Majors in hitting. Minnesota’s Luis Arraez won the AL batting crown with a .316 average, making him the first batting champion in both leagues.

Teammate Francisco Lindor had previously told McNeil he would buy him a car if he won the batting title. Lindor couldn’t remember what prompted his promise of an automobile.

“It’s rare for McNeil to be upset,” Lindor said. “And I just said, ‘If you win the batting title, I’ll get you a car. So here is. it was a long time ago. Everyone’s gotta make sure I haven’t forgotten, and everyone’s gotta make sure I buy him a car. I’ll find him a car. I did not specify which car it was.

Says McNeil: “I hope it’s something pretty cool.”

Jose Reyes is the only former Mets player in franchise history to win an NL batting crown, when he hit .337 in 2011. Reyes drew criticism that year when he opened the season finale with a bunt single, then left the game to protect his lead. .

Hall of Fame slugger Ted Williams played in both games of a doubleheader on the final day of the 1941 campaign, when sitting out would have had a .400 batting average. Williams went 6-for-8 to finish at .406, making him the last major league player to hit .400.

But players sitting down on the last day of a season to preserve stats or individual accomplishments are not uncommon, especially when resting for the playoffs.

McNeil is leading a 10-game hitting streak and is averaging .465 (20 for 43) with eight multi-hit games since Sept. 23.

He was hitting .287 entering the game on July 30, leaving him far behind Freeman (.319) and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Paul Goldschmidt (.334). But McNeil, 30, a two-time All-Star, has since batted .378 for Freeman .327 and Goldschmidt .288.

ESPN’s Joon Lee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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