Mets shortstop Lindor misses ‘winning’ in Cleveland, goes hitless in homecoming

New York Mets' Francisco Lindor gestures to the Cleveland Guardians' dugout as he comes up to bat in the first inning of a baseball game. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Three years later, Francisco Lindor finally came home.

Walking back into Progressive Field as a visitor for the first time on Monday, Lindor’s mind quickly filled with memories of spraying champagne — and a painful night when a World Series title slipped away.

Lindor was back where his playing career began, returning to Cleveland as a member of the New York Mets, who acquired the All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade following the 2020 season.

Flashing his familiar smile, Lindor genuinely seemed to enjoy his return.

“I missed it,” he said before the game while standing in a hallway outside New York’s clubhouse. “This was my home for a while, and it feels great to be here. For sure.”

Before taking batting practice, Lindor warmly greeted former teammate Carlos Carrasco, who was traded to the Mets with him, as well as longtime team radio broadcaster Tom Hamilton and Guardians star third baseman José Ramírez.

Lindor received a nice ovation — sprinkled with a few boos — before leading off the first, pointing toward the Guardians’ dugout before digging in and striking out against Ben Lively.

He finished 0 for 4 with the whiff as New York fell 3-1, the Mets’ eighth loss in 11 games.

While he didn’t do anything of note at the plate, Lindor did make a dazzling play in the eighth. Ranging to his right, Lindor made a backhanded stop in the hole and made a leaping throw to get Tyler Freeman, who was initially called safe.

The Mets challenged, got the call overturned by replay and Lindor took a bow in the field.

The Mets recently moved the 30-year-old Lindor, who came in batting just .197, into the No. 1 spot in hopes of getting him going.

Lindor wasn’t sure what kind of reception he’d get.

“I got nothing but love for them, so I’ll give them my love,” he said. “I’ll give ’em a great show this week.”

Lindor spent six seasons with Cleveland, blossoming from a high-profile prospect into one of baseball’s best all-around players.

With him playing Gold Glove level defense at short, anchoring their lineup and seeming to come up with the big play whenever his team needed one, the Guardians, known as the Indians when he played here, were a perennial contender.

He was the unquestioned face of the franchise. The leader. Lindor never thought he’d leave Cleveland.

But his unwillingness to sign a long-term contract extension forced the team to deal him before he walked as a free agent.

“100 percent,” Lindor said when asked if he expected to play his entire career in Cleveland. “I loved it. It was just a matter of us coming to a good (salary) number. But it’s a business and I fully understand their decision, and I’m happy they sent me to New York.”

But Lindor’s time in the Big Apple hasn’t gone as hoped.

While he’s put up respectable offensive stats — 31 homers last season, 107 RBIs in 2022 — those haven’t translated to team success. The Mets won just 75 games last year and have played in just one postseason game since he arrived.

Lindor seemed to take a shot at himself and the Mets when asked what he missed most about Cleveland.

“Winning,” he said. “There’s nothing better than winning. I know we didn’t finish the ultimate goal. We didn’t close it out, but just the experiences of winning and pouring champagne on each other and creating memories that way with teammates, their families, our whole entire family front office.

“It was a great experience and seeing the crowd, how they got behind us with the rally towels and when it was all red and all white, it was pretty cool.”

Cleveland got so close to winning it all in 2016, but lost an unforgettable Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs, who ended their 108-year title drought.

That one still stings Lindor, who hasn’t shaken the memory.

“A lot,” he said when asked how often he thinks about 2016. “Walking down this hallway, actually right around where I’m standing right now, it was where their whole families and players were celebrating.

“I think about it a lot. Probably until I win one or maybe after I still think about it. I think it’s, that’s just part of the journey.”

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