Amazin' in the outfield: Lagares ranks gems
NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball formally acknowledged Tuesday what Mets observers and modern defensive metrics have long known to be true: Juan Lagares is the best center fielder in the National League -- if not all of baseball.
Lagares won his first Gold Glove Award, topping Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton and Washington's Denard Span, the other center-field finalists. It brings an appropriate end to what, by all measures, was another spectacular defensive season for Lagares.
Ranking Lagares' many notable outfield moments -- the catches, the outfield assists, the times runners didn't dare test his arm -- is an interminable task. Below, though, are Lagares' five favorite "2014 Juan Lagares plays," in no particular order, and as recalled by the Gold Glover himself the final weekend of the regular season.
1. Lagares takes homer away from Jayson Werth
The date: May 17
The scenario: The Mets led, 5-2, with none out in the bottom of the sixth.
The play: Werth got ahold of Bartolo Colon's 89-mph, full-count pipeshot, and Werth put good wood on it. Lagares was playing relatively deep, so he had plenty of time to get to the center-field wall to time his jump.
And time it he did. Lagares leaped, feeling for the wall with his right hand, and turned a home run into a 400-foot flyout.
"It feels great. Even when your pitcher is doing a great job, when you can [bring one back] like that, it's good," Lagares said. "You feel good. When you get to the dugout, the pitcher [thanks] you."
2. Lagares throws Gregor Blanco out at home
The date: Aug. 4
The scenario: The Mets and Giants were deadlocked, 3-3, in the top of the seventh at Citi Field. San Francisco was threatening with two on and none out.
The play: Pablo Sandoval sent a ground ball up the middle, and Blanco tried to score from second. Lagares charged, came up firing and sent a frozen rope to Travis d'Arnaud at home. The throw was placed perfectly on d'Arnaud's glove/third-base side to nab Blanco.
"That's an amazing throw," Lagares said. "I don't know how I did it, but that throw was perfect."
In a way, Lagares was just returning the favor. Blanco gunned down his fellow center fielder when Lagares tried to go first to third on a single in the second inning.
3. Lagares tracks down Span's blooper
The date: Aug. 5
The scenario: The Mets led, 5-1, with the Nationals poised to narrow that gap with a man on third and the top of their lineup up.
The play: Span worked a 3-1 count against lefty Josh Edgin when he sent a flare to center. Lagares -- who was playing Span to go opposite field, shaded well into left-center -- took about a dozen strides to track it down, ending the inning and threat.
The ball ended up in the heel of his glove, and despite lingering on the Nationals Park grass for a few moments, Lagares was physically fine.
"Span, he's a very good center fielder, he takes a lot of hits away," Lagares said. "You [rob] people like that, you feel more [satisfied]. You let the other team know, 'We got guys here, too.' It's fun."
4. Lagares robs Brandon Belt in left-center
The date: Aug. 2
The scenario: The Mets and Giants were scoreless in the top of the second, with hurler Jacob deGrom starting to roll in what became another strong outing.
The play: An eight-pitch at-bat concluded with Belt rocketing one to the left-center gap with two outs. Lagares seemingly had a bead on it the whole time, though, and jumped just shy of the warning track before crashing into the 370-foot marker.
Lagares hung on to the ball to record the out and end the inning.
"I was playing a little shallow," Lagares said. "I had to run a lot, and I jumped [fully extended]. I don't even know how I caught that one."
5. Lagares finds Alex Wood's sinking liner
The date: Aug. 26
The scenario: The Mets were ahead of the Braves, 1-0, with two outs in the top of the third.
The play: This one is Lagares' favorite.
Wood sent a low, screaming line drive to center field, and even Lagares isn't sure how he caught up to it in time. He made a mad dash in and to his left, placing his glove on the Citi Field grass an instant before the ball landed in it.
Lagares couldn't help but look pleased with himself as he jogged off the field.
"That one was good," Lagares said, still smiling about it a month later. "I think that's the hardest one. The one I made on Span was a good one, but he hit a little blooper, a little more in the air. I had more time to run and dive.
"The one I made on Wood was really good. He hit that ball [quite] low. And hard. Down and hard, I don't even know how I got to that ball. I just dove."