NEW YORK - Adam Eaton had not been in the Nationals’ starting lineup against the Mets since Aug. 1, the day he slid hard into second base and wound up injuring Phillip Evans. (Evans suffered a non-displaced plateau fracture of the left tibia and remains on the disabled list 3 1/2 weeks later.)
And given Mets manager Mickey Callaway’s reaction to the play a day later - “I think the guy slid in late, and I think his hand actually came off the bag,” Callaway said, adding: “We have an injured player who could be out for the rest of the year because of it” - there were perhaps a few more eyes on Eaton when he came up to bat Saturday at Citi Field against Zack Wheeler.
Sure enough, Wheeler twice came way inside on Eaton. The right-hander knocked the Nationals’ leadoff man to the ground with a high-and-tight 2-0 fastball in the top of the third. Upon reaching first base after walking the end the plate appearance, Eaton started jawing at third baseman Todd Frazier, who apparently had been chirping something at his former White Sox teammate.
“I don’t know,” Eaton replied when asked what Frazier was saying to him. “When he usually talks or chirps, usually he says it just loud enough that you can hear him but you can’t understand him. So I’ll just leave it at that.”
Except the Mets didn’t seem to leave it at that. Four innings later, with two outs and a runner in scoring position in the top of the seventh, Wheeler drilled Eaton in the hip with a first-pitch fastball. The pesky outfielder quietly took his base without saying or doing anything out of the ordinary.
Asked if he thought he had been hit on purpose, Eaton chose his words carefully while still pointing out how effective Wheeler was in shutting out the Nationals over seven innings.
“Well, I don’t think ... I mean, he had pretty good precise throwing, and then one at my head and then the other one went right at my rear end,” Eaton said. “So, I don’t know. You guys can ... I don’t know. Ask them.”
It doesn’t appear Wheeler was asked about the incident after the game by New York reporters.
For what it’s worth, after the original play on which Evans was injured, the Mets challenged the call and asked for a replay review to see if Eaton violated Major League Baseball’s slide rule. That review determined no violation occurred.
“MLB reviewed the play and said it was a clean play, clean slide,” Eaton said. “I play the game hard. It’s the way I’ve been taught. I think if you can’t play the game hard, then you shouldn’t be playing the game.
“I don’t know. I’ve always been taught the way to play. The past generations, they’d look at that play as almost soft. The old guys used to go in and tackle the guy. What I did was mild. And like I said, try to play the game as hard as I can, and that’s how I play the game. If they want to hit me or throw at me, that’s fine. I take it. Just keep it below the shoulders and above the knee, I’ll be fine with that. They put me on first base, I’m good. They got to do what they got to do.”
Eaton wound up reaching base in all four of his plate appearances Saturday, though the Mets had the last laugh because neither he nor any of his teammates scored during a 3-0 loss, the Nationals’ third consecutive shutout.