With two men on and two outs in the top of the fifth inning Monday at Nationals Park, the Mets’ Eric Campbell drilled a Gio Gonzalez pitch toward the out-of-town scoreboard in the right-center field gap.
“As soon as he hit the ball, I thought it was a problem,” catcher Jose Lobaton said, via Chelsea Janes. “I thought, ‘Oh my god.’ Then at the same time, you see the outfielders running to the ball. You’re expecting something.”
Michael A. Taylor, the Nationals’ 24-year-old center fielder, gave chase over the brown-splotched sod, extended his glove and made a seemingly impossible catch before bracing for impact with the wall. Taylor’s grab preserved a three-run lead in the Nationals’ eventual 7-2 win.
Gonzalez acknowledged Taylor after the play.
“You’ve gotta give love when love is due,” he said.
So how did Taylor make the catch? According to MLB’s Statcast, he started breaking toward the ball before Campbell made contact. His route was nearly perfect and his top speed over the 97 feet he covered was just shy of 20 mph.
.@statcast on Taylor’s 5th inning catch: - He broke .05 sec before contact - Covered 97.172 ft. - 98% route eff. - Top speed: 19.8 MPH
— Jacob Emert (@JacobEmert) July 21, 2015
MASN’s Byron Kerr asked Taylor what he saw on the play.
“Just the ball kind of fading away to the outside of the plate,” Taylor said. “I tried to get a good jump on it and it hung up enough for me to get under it.”
Taylor’s misadventures in center field at windy Fenway Park in an April game are a distant memory. He’s playing the type of defense that Nationals fans are accustomed to seeing from Denard Span and making catches, such as the one Monday, that the 31-year-old Span, sidelined with back spasms, likely couldn’t. His play Monday rivaled the full-extension catch he made against the Cubs on Memorial Day.
In a detailed breakdown of Monday’s catch on Federal Baseball, Garrett Hooe suggests that no one has traveled farther to catch a line drive of at least 340 feet to right-center field by a right-handed hitter in Nationals Park history.
Taylor leads all outfielders in UZR, an imperfect statistic that attempts to quantify a player’s defensive contribution in terms of how many theoretical runs he saves (or gives up) relative to an average fielder at his position.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 21, 2015
Taylor’s UZR is +14.7. Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier (+14.4) is second among outfielders and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton (+10.8) is third. Span posted a career-high +10.2 UZR in 2013, but his UZR was -4.7 last season. It’s -6.0 this year.
Taylor’s catch was one of several brilliant defensive plays by the Nationals on Monday.
Yunel Escobar robbed Campbell of a hit with a diving grab in the second inning. Bryce Harper made a sliding catch of Wilmer Flores’ liner to lead off the eighth inning and Lobaton retired the next batter, John Mayberry Jr., with a tumbling catch next to the Mets’ bullpen.