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COL@NYM: Young stars on defense, basepaths to key win

NEW YORK -- The jam seemed inescapable -- tie game, bases loaded, one out in the sixth. Months earlier, with a weaker defensive outfield, it might have been.

But as the Mets have proven throughout the past few weeks, this is a different bunch roaming Citi Field's outfield turf. Their reputation became apparent when Wilin Rosario popped a ball to shallow center field and the Rockies did not even attempt to test Juan Lagares' throwing arm. Two outs. And it shined a batter later, when Eric Young Jr. made a diving grab of Todd Helton's liner, preserving the tie and allowing the Mets to score a 3-2 victory on the hustle of Young and Lagares in the eighth.

With Young on second base and two outs, Lagares hit a slow roller to second base, where DJ LeMahieu could not field it in time to nab the speedy outfielder. As Helton accepted the throw at first, Young raced around second base and slid into home, easily beating the relay to give the Mets the lead.

The result was an uplifting victory for the Mets, thanks to what general manager Sandy Alderson recently called "the most productive outfield in baseball."

"It's meant a lot, those three guys being out there," manager Terry Collins said.

Five-tool players they are not. But each member of this bunch offers the Mets at least one elite skill.

For Young, it is speed. The former Rockies outfielder showcased it in the sixth, racing in so fast that he nearly overran Helton's liner. Then he trusted his legs in the eighth, knowing LeMahieu and Helton would both need to make perfect throws to nail him. Young grinned afterward while noting that he "caught [Helton] sleeping a little bit."

For Marlon Byrd, the standout tool is power; he established that long ago and continues giving it to the Mets on a near-nightly basis.

For Lagares, it is defense. Though the rookie did not make any highlight-reel plays in this game, he did range back for a fine running grab of pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson's deep fly to center in the seventh inning. He also made Young's game-winning hustle possible by sprinting down the line in the eighth, narrowly beating LaMahieu's desperation throw from second.

His teammate did the rest.

"I never thought he would score on that play," Lagares said of Young. "But when I look back and I see that play, that's amazing."

"He's a hard-nosed player," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He plays hard all the time. He's got game-changing speed. He got them a win tonight."

Serving as an injury replacement for originally scheduled starter Tyler Chatwood, Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis coughed up a pair of first-inning runs on Lagares' two-out triple. But the Mets stranded Lagares at third and did not threaten again against Bettis, who allowed four hits in five innings.

The Rockies battled back for an unearned run in the fifth off Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia, courtesy Ike Davis' fielding error. An inning later, the teams waited out a lengthy delay as medical personnel tended to home-plate umpire Manny Gonzalez, who was struck on the jaw with a batted ball. Gonzalez left the game, resulting in a three-man umpiring crew, and Mejia was awarded a handful of warmup throws.

In retrospect, Collins said, the incident may have forced Mejia out of his groove. Two pitches after play resumed, pinch-hitter Charlie Blackmon launched a game-tying solo homer to center, and Mejia departed shortly thereafter -- but not before loading the bases on a hit, an error and a walk.

"I took a little bit of time, but that's no excuse," Mejia said. "Sometimes that's going to happen."

Making his Major League debut on his 22nd birthday, third baseman Wilmer Flores finished 0-for-4 with an error of his own. Davis went 2-for-2 with two walks and has reached base safely in 12 of his last 14 plate appearances.

The fielding errors may have been critical, but they were confined to the infield. The outfield did nothing but shine for the Mets, both during Colorado's sixth-inning rally and throughout the game. In the seventh, for instance, Lagares ranged back to retire Culberson on a ball that might have spelled trouble two months ago. In the eighth, Byrd hit the turf for a diving catch to rob Troy Tulowitzki.

Alderson's proclamation about the Mets' outfield, at the time, reeked of hyperbole. Not nine months earlier, the general manager had famously quipped "What outfield?" when asked about his starting trio.

But Lagares, Byrd and Young have all contributed, giving the Mets newfound outfield stability -- as well as production.

"I think we've got a little competition amongst ourselves," Young said. "Everyone wants to go out for the ball, give everything they have, make that catch, make that play. I'm sure the pitchers are appreciative, and we're having a lot of fun out there with each other."

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