Angel Pagan is the center of action
Outfielder hit inside-the-park homer, turned tripled play in game
The great baseball philosopher Casey Stengel once offered a sage observation: "Come to the ballpark. You'll see something you never saw before." Angel Pagan, the Mets' center fielder, would certainly agree with that piece of advice.
On May 19 in Washington, D.C., Pagan produced the rarest of baseball perfectas, hitting an inside-the-park home run and then starting a triple play. The last time one player did both those things in the same game was 55 years ago, when infielder Ted Kazanski of the Phillies turned the difficult trick against the New York Giants.
Pagan, filling in while center fielder Carlos Beltran recovers from knee surgery, has been the most consistent Mets player over the first few of the season. His speed has given the team an added dimension, and it was on full display against the Nationals.
First came the home run. Pagan tagged a pitch from Livan Hernandez that sent center fielder Nyjer Morgan scooting back to the fence. "I knew I hit the ball hard," Pagan said. "In Washington, the ball doesn't carry a lot. I looked for it between first and second base."
What he saw was Morgan leaping for the ball at the fence, trying for as spectacular catch. The ball hit the wall and caromed away from the center fielder and now the race was on. "I want at least a triple," Pagan said. "It's not good to watch the ball all the way, but I saw that bounce."
When Pagan reached third, he said he slowed down a bit. But then he saw coach Chip Hale waving him home. "He said 'Go!' and I went for it."
It was the second inside-the-park homer for Pagan who hit one last season against the Phillies. But it was just the beginning of a memorable night for him.
An inning later, the Nationals were threatening with Hernandez on second and Morgan on first. Cristian Guzman sent a sinking liner to center field that brought Pagan on the run. "I wasn't playing that deep, and it wasn't hit that hard," the center fielder said.
The ball fooled Hernandez and Morgan, who both took off. Pagan, coming at full speed, made a shoestring catch and when he looked up, he knew the runners weren't where they were supposed to be.
"I saw Livan on third base and Morgan on second," he said. "I knew nobody was out and I knew I caught it. I thought right away 'triple play.' I could have made it unassisted."
Instead, Pagan threw the ball to second. "A little too high, maybe," he said. The throw came all the way to catcher Henry Blanco, who was in the middle of the infield. Blanco relayed it to Jose Reyes for the out at second base, and Reyes threw to first baseman Ike Davis, completing a very unique 8-2-6-3 triple play.
There was a delay while the umpires huddled to confirm Pagan's catch. There was no need to do that as far as he was concerned. "It was a difficult play, but I knew I caught it," he said.
The triple play was the 10th in Mets history and their first since 2002. And it was an exclamation point on Pagan's season filling in for Beltran, who is still rehabbing his knee and considered to be a month away from returning to the lineup.
"Those are big shoes to fill," Pagan said. "It's a big responsibility but one I'm willing to face. When he comes back, we'll see what my role will be. I hope I've proven I can be an everyday player."
Playing between Jeff Francoeur and Jason Bay, Pagan has given the Mets everything they could want. He's batted at every spot in the lineup except No. 4 and No. 9, and his defense has been impeccable. When Beltran returns, it will give the team four capable outfielders to fill three spots.
That's a nice problem for manager Jerry Manuel to have.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York City.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.