Cano's impressive debut carries Mets past Nats

Veteran showcases all-around game with HR, two RBIs, heads-up DP

March 28th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- set his trap with an air of innocence, stepping casually over to second base. Cano knew from the moment Anthony Rendon hit a ground ball to third that completing a double play would be difficult, perhaps impossible. He also knew, with a one-run lead of his own making on Opening Day, that he mustn’t let the tying run score.

So Cano sidled over to second, maintaining awareness -- “I like to pay attention to the little details,” he said afterward -- of three things happening on different parts of the diamond. Cano trained his eyes on the throw coming at him from Jeff McNeil at third. He kept tabs on Rendon speeding down the first-base line. Then he noticed Victor Robles, who had retreated to third base on contact, breaking again toward home.

Cano fired to the plate.

The resulting 5-4-2-5 double play was a thing of unorthodoxy, athleticism and savvy, highlighting a day that also saw Cano homer in his first at-bat with his new team, drive in two runs and more generally lead the Mets to a 2-0 win Thursday at Nationals Park.

“It’s a perfect day,” Cano said.

It started with a perfect beginning; facing three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in the top of the first, Cano lifted a fly ball that carried over the left-center-field fence for a solo homer. That made Cano the 10th player to homer in his first at-bat with the Mets, and the first since Mike Jacobs hit a pinch-hit three-run homer in his first career plate appearance in 2005.

If Cano’s blast was not quite so dramatic, it was easily more impactful in the context of a brand-new season. So was the RBI single he directed to the opposite field in the eighth inning, doubling the Mets’ lead and showcasing the bat control Cano used to compile 2,470 hits over 14 years with the Yankees and Mariners.

Neither hit, however, compared to the double play Cano turned in the third, with the Mets still clinging to a 1-0 lead. Somewhat shaky early, starting pitcher put runners on the corners with no outs that inning, before striking out the next batter, Trea Turner. Up came Rendon, whose grounder rolled slowly enough that by the time McNeil fielded it and fired to Cano, Rendon had made it most of the way down the first-base line.

But Robles, who was 4 years old when Cano signed his first professional contract, made a rookie goof, assuming Cano would attempt a 5-4-3 double play. Seizing the opportunity, Cano took a risk, firing home flat-footed and sidearm across his body. Robles froze -- “I got a little confused,” he said afterward -- and the resulting rundown was elementary.

“He’s probably the only guy in baseball who makes that play, and it was a no-look pass to home,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “Incredible heads-up. The guy at third probably did the wrong thing, and Cano made him pay.”

When the Mets acquired Cano from the Mariners in a seven-play trade this past winter, many headlines focused on Edwin Díaz -- the gasoline-hurling 25-year-old closer who also made his Mets debut Thursday, retiring the side in order in the ninth for his first save. But the Mets held similar hopes for Cano to thrive at age 36 -- a point at which many players have long since entered a decline.

Thursday vindicated that point of view. As much as deGrom, who struck out 10 batters in delivering his 25th consecutive quality start, Cano carried the Mets. Catcher Wilson Ramos said afterward that it was the type of performance the team’s younger players can watch and absorb. Callaway quipped that general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made “a hell of a trade.”

“It shows the rest of the team not only how to play the game, but what winning is all about,” the manager said. “It’s doing things that you wouldn’t normally do, whether it’s taking Scherzer back up the middle for a homer, fighting off a good pitch for an RBI or making a heads-up baseball play. That’s what it takes to win.”