T.J. Rivera entered Triple-A Las Vegas' season finale on Monday with a .350 average, down four points in the Pacific Coast League batting race with teammate and Mets' fifth-ranked prospect Brandon Nimmo.
Rivera wasn't aware he was within reach of the title at the start, but his 51s teammates let him know before he sealed it with a double to center field in his final at-bat.
"[Just before my last at-bat], that's when I started to really hear guys talking more about who was winning and who was in the lead," New York's No. 30 prospect said. "Honestly, I was just trying to have a good at-bat. It sucks that it had to be a teammate that I had to face for the title, but he's had a great season and you can't take anything away from him."
Riding a stretch of three straight multi-hit games, Rivera went 3-for-5 and drove in two runs in Las Vegas' 7-1 win over Salt Lake at Smith's Ballpark to pass Nimmo and capture the crown by just one point with a .353 average.
Rivera rejoined to the 51s on Aug. 29 after a short stint with the Mets. When the calendar flipped to September, he was sporting a .345 average. In his absence, Nimmo, who returned from New York on Aug. 10, slashed .407/.474/.651 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 20 August games to vault himself into the lead.
"[The jokes] originated when I came back down from the big leagues," Rivera said with a laugh. "A bunch of guys would joke and say, 'He's back to try to claim the title,' so we laughed about it. When I got back, people said that [Nimmo] had been unstoppable. I was happy for him because when he's hot, he's tough to get out."
Rivera went down on strikes in his first two at-bats and collected his first knock with a single to right field with two outs in the fourth. In the sixth, Nimmo walked and Rivera gained more ground with a one-out, two-run single to center to extend the 51s' lead to 5-0.
Nimmo tallied his first hit with a single through third base with two outs in the seventh and finished 1-for-5. The 23-year-old's batting average climbed steadily since July 20, when he was hitting at a .327 clip.
"I didn't realize how close we were until today," Rivera laughed. "After a couple at-bats, I started hearing guys talk. 'Oh, he's in the lead by this or he needs this.' When I started hearing that, I was like, 'Oh, man, I'm closer than I thought.' I thought he took it over because he was hitting so well when I [was called up]."
In his final at-bat in the eighth, Rivera laced his 31st double of the season to straight-away center to pull ahead for the title.
Las Vegas' Marc Krauss walked and Xorge Carrillo singled leading off the ninth, and Nimmo lined into a double play.
Rivera ended his Triple-A season with a .353/.393/.516 slash line, 11 homers and 85 RBIs. He closed out the year with hits in 17 of his last 18 ballgames.
"It's been my goal to put good at-bats together consistently," he said. "Every day I come to the field with the goal to put together five good at-bats, and I think that's when the hits come, when you can swing at good pitches."
He was notified by Mets on Sunday that he'd rejoin the team following the end of the PCL season. He's hit .289 with three RBIs in 13 big league games this season.
"When you get in a rhythm, it's always nice whether it's in the big leagues or down here in Triple-A," Rivera said. "Once you get that confidence going, you're going to start putting good at-bats together. When you're doubting yourself, that's when you get in trouble."
Las Vegas starter Josh Zeid (3-2) allowed three hits and four walks while striking out six over six scoreless innings.
Mets' No. 3 prospect Gavin Cecchini, who finished third in the PCL behind Rivera and Nimmo with a .325 average, went 2-for-4 and drove in a run.
Kyle Kendrick (6-5) gave up two runs on seven hits and three walks while fanning five over five innings.
Mack Burke is a contributor with MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @macburke18_MiLB