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Francisco Lindor makes first return to Cleveland with Mets


Francisco Lindor makes first return to Cleveland with Mets

CLEVELAND — As Francisco Lindor emerged from the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field on Monday, more than two dozen media members were already gathered around a television backdrop waiting for him. Wriggling between a pair of them, Lindor took his place in front of the cameras, seemingly at home. Then he smiled.

This was indeed once home for Lindor, a first-round Draft pick of the Guardians in 2011 who played six seasons in Cleveland from 2015-20. Monday marked Lindor’s first return here since the January 2021 trade that made him a Met.

“I hope they appreciate what he did for the city,” said Mets third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh, who held the same role in Cleveland throughout Lindor’s tenure. “He really had some big hits, some big plays. You want them to appreciate him. Baseball’s a business like anywhere else. But you just hope the fans appreciate what he did while he was here.”

As Lindor emerged from the dugout to lead off Monday’s game, he did receive a few cheers. The ovation grew louder — albeit with some boos mixed in — once Cleveland’s PA announcer introduced him. Lindor had anticipated the moment being emotional.

Before the game, he spent a long while speaking with Guardians star José Ramírez, whom he called “great and resilient.” He referred to Carlos Carrasco, who is back in Cleveland after coming to New York alongside Lindor in the 2021 trade, as “my brother.” Lindor, who finished 0-for-4 in a 3-1 Mets loss, also acknowledged the peaks and valleys of his time in Ohio.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of mixed feelings coming to the ballpark,” Lindor’s new manager, Carlos Mendoza, said. “This is the organization that gave him a chance at the big league level, saw him become the player he is right now.”

“He’s matured,” Sarbaugh added. “Now he’s a father, a husband. That part of it, you can see a difference in him. Going from a 22-year-old to a 30-year-old, and how you go about it, he’s learned so much.”

When Lindor debuted, he was a 21-year-old wunderkind with boundless potential. He made the World Series as a 22-year-old and still recalls walking past a group of celebrating Cubs players as he left the stadium after Game 7. When asked about a young Lindor, Sarbaugh pointed to the right-field foul pole, which Lindor struck with a thunderous grand slam in Game 2 of the 2017 American League Championship Series against the Yankees. At the time, it was his signature moment as a big leaguer. It might still be.

Back in those days, Lindor believed — or at least hoped — he would be in Cleveland forever. But he also felt it important to establish his true market value, which is why Lindor reportedly rejected a $200-plus million offer to stay. Unwilling to go further, the Guardians opted to trade Lindor one year before he was to become a free agent. The Mets sent Andrés Giménez, Amed Rosario and two prospects to Cleveland to get him and Carrasco, then later gave Lindor a $341 million extension.

Although neither prospect has flourished, the deal has still been a fruitful one for the Guardians, mostly because Giménez has blossomed into a two-time Gold Glove Award winner and above-average hitter at a fraction of the price of his predecessor (the Guardians signed Giménez to a seven-year, $106.5 million extension in March 2023). Lindor, meanwhile, has struggled to establish himself as the same type of reliable superstar he was in Cleveland. He entered Monday’s play batting .197 (now at .193), with all the requisite questions that tend to accompany such a number.

“That’s not Francisco Lindor,” a reporter said to him during his group interview Monday.

“I agree,” Lindor replied, before pausing.

“Actually,” he continued, “it is. It’s part of it. It’s part of the journey. I don’t like it, and I will not be there. I will continue to climb. I will do my best day in and day out to continue to climb.”

Lindor went on to say that numbers mean little when compared to the broader goal of winning. He hasn’t done much of that in New York, either, playing just three playoff games in four seasons. In Cleveland, Lindor started nearly two dozen postseason games before his 25th birthday, which at least partially explains why, when he came to bat Monday to lead off the game, he heard far more cheers than boos.

“I’ve got nothing but love for them,” Lindor said. “I’ll give them my love, and I’ll give them a great show this week.”

The ending in Cleveland wasn’t what either side of this marriage once hoped. More than three years later, both parties have long since moved on.

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