NEW YORK — Jeff McNeil, held out of the New York Mets‘ starting lineup in their rain-delayed 9-2 win against Washington on Wednesday, officially won the National League batting title after the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Freddie Freeman came up short in his bid to overtake McNeil on the last day of the regular season.
Mets manager Buck Showalter said it was his decision to sit McNeil as New York prepped for a wild-card playoff series versus the San Diego Padres that begins Friday night.
“Wouldn’t put that on him,” Showalter said. “The most important thing is Friday. Everything else takes second.”
Nursing a four-point lead in the big league batting race, McNeil entered on defense in the eighth inning but did not come to the plate and finished with a .326 average that was the highest in the majors — one point ahead of Freeman.
“This is one of my goals in baseball, is to win a batting title,” said McNeil. “It’s a bunch of hard work and trying to get back to the player I knew I could be after last year. Last year wasn’t a great year for me. Wanted to get back to who I am and was lucky enough to be rewarded for that.”
Needing to go 4-for-4 against the Colorado Rockies in order to catch McNeil, Freeman doubled and homered in his first two at-bats, but a flyout to the warning track in center field in the fifth ended his hopes.
“I was definitely paying attention to what was going on,” McNeil said of watching Freeman during the rain delay. “Saw Freddie’s first at-bat up the middle, didn’t watch the second at-bat. … Hits a homer and you get a little bit nervous, he’s swinging the bat well, and with Freddie Freeman, four hits is normal for him. In his third at-bat, a good numbers of us were sitting in the locker room watching it. He put a good swing on it and was lucky that one stayed in the park.”
Freeman hit .325 for the season and finishes with 199 base hits and 100 RBIs. Freeman’s 393-foot drive to left tied the game 1-all with two outs in the third. He singled in a run in the seventh.
“I was close,” Freeman said. “I gave it a run.”
Los Angeles had already clinched the NL West title and home-field advantage through the World Series. The Dodgers beat the Rockies 6-1 for their 111th victory, becoming the National League’s winningest team in more than a century.
Teammate Francisco Lindor had previously told McNeil that he would buy him a car if he won the batting title. Following Wednesday’s game, Lindor explained how the offer came about but wouldn’t offer any insight into what kind of car McNeil can expect.
“Something came up, and we talked about the batting title. He was upset that day; I don’t know what it was. It was rare when McNeil was upset, and I just said, if you win the batting title, I’ll get you a car,” Lindor said. “It was a long time ago and he has made sure I haven’t forgotten — and he’s making sure I’m buying him a car. I will get him a car. I didn’t specify what kind of car it was. So, good luck figuring it out.”
Jose Reyes is the only previous 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 famously played both games of a doubleheader on the last day of the 1941 campaign when sitting out would have secured a .400 batting average. Williams went 6-for-8 to finish at .406, making him the last major leaguer to hit .400.
But players sitting out on the final day of a season to preserve individual statistics or achievements is hardly unheard of — especially when resting for the playoffs.
McNeil is riding a 10-game hitting streak and is batting .465 (20-for-43) with eight multi-hit games since Sept. 23.
He was hitting .287 entering play July 30, leaving him far behind Freeman (.319) and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Paul Goldschmidt (.334). But the 30-year-old McNeil, a two-time All-Star, has batted .378 since to Freeman’s .327 and Goldschmidt’s .288.
ESPN’s Joon Lee and The Associated Press contributed to this report.