Lagares robs possible HR with dazzling catch

Center fielder shows he can make Gold Glove-caliber plays again

April 20th, 2016

PHILADELPHIA -- Juan Lagares ranged back, arcing with the baseball, already sensing the point where he and it would intersect. Downward fell the ball. Upward leapt Lagares, meeting it at a point just above Citizens Bank Park's center-field fence.

The catch, teammate Neil Walker said, was "maybe the play of the year." Lagares robbed Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco of at least two bases in Tuesday's 11-1 drubbing of the Phillies, and possibly even more.

Although the catch happened in a game the Mets were going to win anyway, Lagares offered his team a reminder of the Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder he used to be -- and can be again.

"I went at it with everything I have," Lagares said. "I feel 100 percent right now, and I think that's very important. I feel 100 percent. I feel strong. … I feel like I can make those catches again."

The key word in that quotation is the last one. After winning his Gold Glove with a spectacular defensive season in 2014, Lagares battled through injuries and weight gain one year later, showing up to Spring Training a shell of the defensive player that he was. When the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes in July, his playing time cratered. When they re-signed Cespedes in late January, opportunities for Lagares -- who is only just now entering the first season of a five-year, $23 million contract extension -- seemed scant.

But Lagares showed up to Spring Training in markedly better shape, fresh off a stint in winter ball and a new diet regime, his right elbow recovered from an injury that the Mets once thought might require Tommy John surgery. Lagares' range in spring games also appeared much improved, impressing the Mets enough to promise him playing time against left-handed starters.

The only problem? The team saw just one lefty over its first 13 games, again relegating Lagares almost exclusively to the bench. Aside from a few pinch-hit opportunities here and there, Lagares did not have much of a chance to make an impact until Tuesday, when he entered in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter, then ranged back 91 feet, according to Statcast™, to make a play on a ball that came off Franco's bat at 112 mph. As the Phillies' third baseman looked on in disbelief, Lagares crashed into the fence and held onto the ball.

"If there's a better catch so far in baseball than that one, I haven't seen it," manager Terry Collins said. "On the dead run, dead fly, go up against that fence to make that? We get spoiled watching it. But that's what we saw two years ago. And that's why he's got a Gold Glove sitting on his mantle, too."