2017 has arrived, and before we know it, pitchers and catchers will descend to Port St. Lucie, not to mention plenty of players voluntarily at the end of this month. Besides the entire baseball season, it is my favorite time of year, as my birthday arriving on February 9th means not only have I made it one more vintage but there will be baseball soon to fill me with cheer.
I remember in 2011, the back page of the NY Daily News on my 26th birthday was Mr. Met packing up Queens for Florida, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I still have that issue somewhere, and I look forward to framing it one day.
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While yes, there will be new Mets baseball arriving very shortly, 2016 is still on the mind. As my screensaver, I have screenshots I took of some of the moments from the recent baseball season, so I am reminded daily of some of the great memories the Mets made in 2016.
I have frozen plays, swings and pitches in time, mostly taken from the great work at SNY, and I tweeted some of my favorites as the year wound down. One thing I have come to realize more and more every day as these screenshots pass through my computer is this:
Let me set the scene for you first if your memory is vague on what I am talking about, or if you just need a freshen-up. It is September 2nd. Even though they had recently been coming on strong in the Wild Card race, the Mets had lost two in a row, including the opening game against the Nationals. Luckily for them, the Giants and the Cardinals, the only two teams in front of them, had also lost two in a row, leaving the Mets stuck at two games back.
Only sweeps of the Nationals in their remaining couple series, plus a major collapse from the Washington club outside of those games meant the Mets had a chance of winning the division. With it being such an outside chance, the goal was to play hard and keep pushing onward to make the playoffs somehow, some way. One thing was for certain: the Mets needed to stop letting Murphy, their former second baseman turned Mets tormentor, beat them (more on that in another post coming to a Rising Apple front page near you…)
They were starting to pitch better against him when he came to bat in the 7th, the Mets clinging to a 3-1 lead with a runner on and one out. Michael Conforto had never been a center fielder, but Juan Lagares‘ injury and Yoenis Cespedes‘ preference/need to play all games in left field led the Mets to the Conforto Center Field Experiment once he returned from the minor leagues.
Though he may not be the rangiest and might need to dive when others like Lagares would just get there with their positioning and speed, Conforto showed off his baseball instincts with his first ever major league center field putout, against the Marlins in Miami.
Manning the position that night in September, LHP Josh Smoker was on the mound and Murph made some solid contact, as he is one to do, sending a laser into center. Conforto may have broken back first, but kept his eye on the ball.
Firstly, this wasn’t a show-off dive as some web gems may sometimes appear. He HAD to leave his feet just to get glove on the ball. Watch how quickly the ball dips at the end there. Put the slower speed on. Yes, he broke back first, forcing him to make drastic measures to make the out. He did so, however, with laser precision, adjusting perfectly to where the ball was going to land. Not everyone can fly through the air like Superman and still catch the ball.
The point is to make the out, give your pitcher and the team a better chance to stave off a potential rally and win the game. The fact it came against Murphy after he just completely dominated us for most of the year made the catch that much sweeter.
Not to mention it helped induce awesome reactions from Mets new pumped-up reliever, Mr. Josh Smoker (even if he left the ball way too over the plate to Murphy :D)
He was, however, also very pumped up to do this a couple of batters later.
It is hard to say if this is a better catch than that first putout in Miami, because that was crazy, too. It may not have come in a playoff game. It may have not come in a World Series game. It may not have sealed a Wild Card or divisional crown. It did, however, do more to guarantee that the Mets would win the top wild card spot eventually, let alone that help aid an eventual series victory in September against a hated division rival.