Jul 21, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
There was Yunel Escobar’s backhanded stab of John Mayberry’s smash down the third-base line in the top of the first, perhaps preventing two runs from scoring. There was Michael Taylor’s galloping catch of Eric Campbell’s drive to deep right-center in the top of the fifth, again perhaps preventing two runs from scoring. There was Bryce Harper’s shoestring snag of Wilmer Flores’ sinking liner to right in the top of the eighth. And moments later, there was Jose Lobaton’s sprawling grab of Mayberry’s foul-pop, up against a backstop railing and just shy of the camera well.
The Nationals made so many highlight-reel plays in the field during Monday night’s 7-2 victory over the Mets, one of the game’s primary beneficiaries couldn’t choose just one to celebrate.
“All of them,” Gio Gonzalez said. “Escobar. Danny. The play Mikey T made in right-center. It’s fun to watch when these guys are playing their tails off. And Bryce made some nice sliding plays. It makes it easier for a pitcher when these guys are making some great plays out there.”
For a team that has been known at times to look awfully sloppy in the field, the Nationals sure looked like defensive gurus Monday night. Across the board, this might well have been their best defensive game of the season.
“It takes that to beat a good club,” manager Matt Williams said.
And it might have taken all those plays Monday to beat the Mets, who were denied at least four runs via spectacular plays by Escobar and Taylor.
The game’s entire tenor might have been different had Escobar not made his backhanded snare of Mayberry’s first-inning hot shot to third, then made a perfect throw across the diamond to end the frame without a run scoring. If the ball gets through, New York probably hands Matt Harvey a 2-run lead before he ever takes the mound. Instead, it remained a scoreless affair heading to the bottom of the first, at which point the Nationals pounced on Harvey for two runs.
“He’s been huge over there at third base,” said Clint Robinson, who was the recipient of Escobar’s pinpoint throw across the diamond to complete the play. “From spring training and being moved around from second to third base, he’s been kind of a rock over there for us. He’s been really important to our club, moving around, leading off, hitting cleanup; he’s pretty much just doing it all right now.”
Escobar’s play might well have stood as the gem of the evening, if not for Taylor’s remarkable catch to end the top of the fifth. With two on, two out and the Nationals leading 5-2, Campbell roped a drive to deep right-center. Heads immediately hung in despair.
“As soon as he hit the ball, I thought: ‘Oh, that’s a problem. Oh, my god,'” Lobaton said.
“I thought it was at least off the wall,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe top of the wall.”
Except here was Taylor gliding toward the wall in right-center like a gazelle, long strides allowing him to cover a ton of ground before he reached out and grabbed the ball moments before reaching the chain-link fence that guards the out-of-town scoreboard.
As the crowd of 31,326 roared with approval, Gonzalez raised both arms in celebration, then pointed toward his center fielder to say thanks.
“I couldn’t be happier to see Mikey T making a nice play like that,” the left-hander said. “It’s tough to keep your emotions in check. But when a play like that happens, you gotta show love when love is due.”
It didn’t take more than the naked eye to appreciate Taylor’s effort, but once the official numbers were revealed via MLB’s Statcast system, the catch became even more impressive.
Taylor covered more than 97 feet to make the play, topping out at 19.8 mph. His route to the ball earned an efficiency rating of 98 percent. And his reaction time? Well, it might be more appropriate to refer to it as his anticipation time.
Taylor actually began breaking toward the ball .05 seconds before Campbell made contact. Yes, before. Paying attention to Gonzalez’s pitch and Lobaton’s positioning behind the plate, Taylor anticipated a ball hit to his left and thus took his first step a split-second before bat hit ball.
“It was a perfect read,” Williams said. “Perfect angle, and he was able to run it down.”
The Taylor catch probably was the biggest highlight of the game in the field, but the two plays the Nationals made in the top of the eighth were no less significant. Harper came charging in to make a sliding catch of Flores’ soft liner to right. A few seconds later, Lobaton made his remarkable catch of Mayberry’s popup, evading metal railings, stone walls and a drop down into the camera well next to the visitors’ dugout.
“I wasn’t expecting that play,” Lobaton said. “I was running to the ball, saw the ball. The sky was kind of like dark, kind of weird. It wasn’t easy. It was a deep flyball and I saw it and then at the last second the ball is moving that way. I reached it and I caught it and I’m like, that’s cool. That was big for us at that point.”
It seemed like everything the Nationals did in the field Monday night proved to be big for them.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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