He’s The Juan! (Diamondbacks at Mets; 09.12.19)

Arturo Holmes/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


NEW YORK — In the most trying offensive season of his Major League career, New York Mets center fielder Juan Lagares knew the only way he would have any chance to break out of his doldrums at the plate was to keep putting in the work behind the scenes, even when assignments on the field continued to dwindle as the season progressed. His patience, and that of the Mets, has paid off during the start of the home stretch of the season.

Lagares smacked two home runs, including his first-career grand slam to break the game open, as New York capped an impressive sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks with an 11-1 victory on Thursday afternoon. Lagares’ two clouts were part of the six homers New York blasted off Arizona pitching as it continued its impressive offensive showing throughout the four-game whitewash.

The third inning, where the Mets scored five runs and included Lagares’ game-breaking homer, should not have gotten to the point where Lagares came up to deliver the decisive blow. Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed, a one-time Gold Glove winner, made a throwing error to allow Pete Alonso to reach base with one out. The Mets eventually loaded the bases with two outs for Lagares, who lifted a 3-2 pitch from Diamondbacks starter Alex Young into the bleachers in left-center for his fifth homer of the season.

Before today, Lagares, a .255 career hitter whose average has hovered around the Mendoza Line all of 2019, had not hit a homer at Citi Field since September of 2017. The 2014 National League Gold Glove winner in center field was able to get enough opportunities in the starting lineup to break out of his slump because of his stellar glove work, but today was all about showing the benefits of all the work he put in to improve his bat just in time for the Mets to make one last push for the postseason.

In his last seven games, Lagares is 6-for-15 (.400) with three of his five homers coming in that span.

“I’ve been working the whole season with [Mets batting coach] Chili Davis,” Lagares said. “I’ve been waiting for the opportunity and trying to do my job when I have it. Right now, we’re playing good, and that’s what we’re here for, keep winning games and keep playing hard.”

The work that Lagares put in despite his struggles and lack of consistent playing time wasn’t lost on his teammates – who all look up to and respect the Mets’ longest-tenured player – nor the Mets hierarchy.

“The selflessness pays off,” said Mets manager Mickey Callaway. “He didn’t complain, he didn’t get down, he didn’t let it affect his work. He just kept on working, kept on getting in there with Chili and Slate every day, and keeping himself in a position where when he gets his shot, he can perform. He’s done it a couple of times where he starts to get playing and all of a sudden he gets hot. He comes here to win.”

Lagares’ hot bat was contagious today, as Todd Frazier, Tomas Nido, Robinson Cano and Michael Conforto each hit homers. New York scored 20 runs, hit 11 home runs and had 15 extra-base hits combined in the last two games of the series.

Marcus Stroman capped off a strong pitching performance for the Mets all series, going 6.1 innings and allowing just one run on four hits while striking out six and walking four. In the series, Mets starters went 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA, a small sample in New York’s league-leading 3.06 ERA among its starters since the All-Star Break.

Diamondbacks starter Alex Young, who struck out 12 over eight innings in a win over Cincinnati in his last start, only went 2.2 innings today, though just one of his five runs that he allowed were earned due to Ahmed’s error.

Arizona, who came into the series winning 11 of its last 12 games, have now lost five straight to fall 3.5 games back of Milwaukee and Chicago for the second Wild Card spot.

*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Thursday afternoon’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST photographer Arturo Holmes. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are currently 36 pictures in total.

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