Jeff McNeil hits home run in ninth inning to lead Mets to victory

MIAMI — Don’t tell Jeff McNeil the Mets are out of contention.

Infamous for a furibund brand of baseball that tends not to change whether his team is in first place or last, McNeil proved it with a tiebreaking homer in the ninth inning Monday night to power the Mets to a 2-1 win over the contending Marlins. When the ball cleared the fence at loanDepot park, McNeil let out a yell, then another as he skipped across home plate with the go-ahead run.

“This is a good ballclub over there, and they’re right in the playoff race,” McNeil said. “We’ve got to show up every single day, play good baseball no matter who we’re playing. But when you’ve got a team competing for a Wild Card spot, you want to play well and you want to win those games.”

For most of the series opener, the Mets didn’t appear on course to do so. Although starting pitcher José Butto contributed another fine outing, lowering his ERA to 2.08 since returning to the rotation, the Mets nearly fell behind on a Jorge Soler home run that soared over the foul pole and was initially ruled fair, before umpires convened to reverse the ruling. That kept things knotted until the ninth inning, when Marlins reliever Tanner Scott’s third pitch lingered over the middle of the plate.

McNeil lunged at it, pulling it to right for his fourth home run in his past 56 plate appearances — and his first all year against a left-handed pitcher.

“He hit it over the fence, so yeah, it was a missed location,” Scott said. “[If] the pitch is down and away, he’s going to cap it or swing and miss. Just a mistake with location.”

In recent weeks, McNeil has been doing a better job of capitalizing on such pitches. His four homers in September represent 40% of his season total; from June 11 through Aug. 4, he went 177 consecutive plate appearances without one.

“No clue,” McNeil said when asked about the recent power surge.

Things have been going better in general for McNeil, who is batting .301 over his past 28 games while regularly playing three defensive positions. Although McNeil’s season average is still just .266, far below last year’s batting-title mark of .326, his recent production has helped the Mets tackle a season-ending 20-game stretch against a quartet of National League Wild Card contenders: the Diamondbacks, Reds, Marlins and Phillies.

Technically speaking, the fourth-place Mets would benefit from losing as many games as possible this month to boost their capital in next year’s Draft. But McNeil and his teammates are not wired that way, which is why the visitors’ dugout exploded on Monday when he hit his go-ahead homer.

“That’s been going on for a while,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’m so proud of our guys. That comes from the four or five guys that are out there every day grinding. … The example they’re setting has really rubbed off on everybody.”

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