MIAMI -- The situation was tense enough for a mound visit, as Buck Showalter pondered how best to proceed. Tylor Megill was laboring in the fifth inning of Saturday’s 6-2 win over the Marlins. Dennis Santana was ready in the bullpen, with two men in scoring position, two outs and a two-run lead on the board for the Mets. But the integrity of Megill’s stuff had not, in Showalter’s eyes, diminished. The manager elected to continue with his starter.
At shortstop, Francisco Lindor crouched inches in front of the outfield grass, ready to spring into motion as Bryan De La Cruz rolled sharply over a full-count slider. By the time the ball reached the infield dirt, Lindor had already bounded multiple steps to his right, anticipating the angle at which he could meet it. This was akin to a computer programmer seeing a picture in thousands of lines of code; an airline pilot instinctively guiding a plane through turbulence. Lindor considered diving but thought better of it. Instead, he backhanded the ball, planted both feet and fired a 79-mph strike to beat De La Cruz by more than a step.
The play saved two runs, preserving New York’s lead and allowing the Mets to cruise to the victory over the Marlins at loanDepot Park.
“I love playing defense,” Lindor said afterward. “Megill’s been working. He’s working, working, working. He got himself into a jam. And to be able to help him out, that just feels great.”
A quick glance at Saturday’s box score would reveal that Mark Canha enjoyed his first breakout game of the year with three hits, including a homer, with three runs scored and two RBIs; Megill offered a solid start in place of the injured Justin Verlander; Omar Narváez gave the Mets plenty of offense from the nine-hole; and five relievers combined on four scoreless innings. It would not reveal the crucial fifth-inning effort of Lindor, whose play improved the Mets’ win expectancy by more than 8%.
“If that sneaks through, then we’re having a different discussion right now,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said.
Lindor’s highlight was not the simple product of luck, nor of a player who happened to be in the right place at the right time. A critic of defensive over-shifts before Major League Baseball banned them this season, Lindor feels freer playing shortstop with the new rules in place. His reflexes are as sharp as they’ve ever been. The information he receives from New York’s analytics team is both comprehensive and distilled, corroborating Lindor’s own instincts on where he should be playing.
So when De La Cruz sent his ball into the hole between shortstop and third base, Lindor was prepared.
“It seems like he’s taken his defensive game to another level,” Showalter said. “He’s anticipating things.”
Added Lindor: “It was coming my way, and I wanted it.”
A two-time Gold Glover who has always been a strong defender, Lindor led all Major Leaguers in outs above average from 2016-22, with +117. (Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado, who has won a Gold Glove every year of his decade-long career, ranks third on that list with +92.) Lindor's not perfect; after Saturday’s game, he made a crack about his own arm strength, knowing he doesn’t possess the type of cartoonish bazooka that some shortstops do. What Lindor does feature is quickness, agility and unteachable instincts.
That allows him to impact games even while enduring offensive droughts like his modest 2-for-11 stretch to start the season. On Friday, Lindor robbed Jorge Soler of a single by perfectly timing his leap at shortstop. On Saturday, Lindor could have preserved the Mets’ lead by diving to hold De La Cruz to an infield single -- the safe play in that instance, which would have cost the Mets one run. Instead, he maintained enough presence of mind to stay on his feet and prevent two runs from scoring.
From across the infield, as Megill watched Lindor make the play, he pointed to his teammate and yelled, “Let’s go!”
“Shoutout Francisco,” Megill said postgame. “That was awesome.”