NEW YORK -- Minutes before the start of Friday's 4-1 win over the Marlins, Mets center fielder Juan Lagares stepped onto the field to accept his 2014 Rawlings Gold Glove award, grinning as he hoisted it up with both hands. Then Lagares set about showcasing the skills that helped him earn it.
Three times, Lagares made fine catches in center field, each one more difficult than the last. In the second inning, the newly minted Gold Glover ranged to his right for a running grab of Adeiny Hechavarria's fly ball. An inning later, he sprinted further into the gap to rob Christian Yelich of extra bases. And in the seventh, Lagares dove to snare a J.T. Realmuto pop to shallow center, almost certainly preventing a run from scoring.
"Everybody in the dugout was talking about that," Lagares said, laughing. "They said, 'They didn't see before the game when you got the Gold Glove? They just hit it to you?' I said, 'I don't know, maybe they didn't see it.'"
Although the Mets also have high hopes for a bat that also contributed a rally-sparking single in Friday's game, they signed Lagares to a $23 million contract earlier this month mostly because of their faith in his defense. At age 25 last summer, Lagares ranked second among big league outfielders with 28 Defensive Runs Saved, fourth in Ultimate Zone Rating, and first in its close cousin, UZR per 150 games. He didn't come close to replicating the franchise-record 15 outfield assists he recorded a year earlier, in large part because opposing teams stopped running on him.
"I thought he had absolutely no chance on the ball that he made the diving catch on," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Friday's theatrics. "This kid's really, really good out there."
Afterward, Mets vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz approached Lagares in the clubhouse, telling him the media requested to speak with him.
"Me?" Lagares said. "For what?"
For his catches against Realmuto and Yelich, he was told.