On a shelf in his spare locker at Citi Field, Brandon Nimmo has a baseball with a series of markings by Wayne Kirby, the Mets’ first base coach. Kirby noted the data from a stellar play Nimmo made earlier this summer, inscribing it: “Best Catch 2022.”
Kirby might need to reconsider; best, after all, is a relative term. Forget probabilities and exit velocities — the catch Nimmo made in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, to rob a homer from Justin Turner and save Jacob deGrom’s 2-1 victory, was a slice of baseball perfection.
The play, and the game, had it all: the two best teams in the National League, a sellout crowd of 41,799, a crisp pace, great players doing great things, even a live trumpet performance on the field before the top of the ninth inning.
“I’ve got to tell you, when we have a full house, I want the hot dogs to be hot, I want the beer to be cold, I want the parking not to be a problem, I want them to leave here and go, ‘Boy, that was worth it and I want to come again,’” Mets Manager Buck Showalter said.
“We have a responsibility to be ready to play, and that’s my first thought: If I went to this game tonight and I got in the car and went home, it was fun. That’s what it should be — and they picked us over the U.S. Open.”
A championship wasn’t really at stake in the Mets’ part of Queens, it only felt that way. The Dodgers are 90-39, running away with the N.L. West, and on Tuesday they beat the Mets to keep Timmy Trumpet, an excitable Australian musician, from playing his “Narco” anthem for closer Edwin Díaz.
On Wednesday, Timmy got to do his thing — and so did Díaz, who retired the side in the ninth to finish the game just 2 hours 19 minutes after it started. It gave the Mets a 19-11 record for the month, their most victories in August since 2015, the last year they won the pennant.
DeGrom is the only player left from that World Series roster, and he is pitching at full strength, at last, after missing more than a year with arm trouble. On Wednesday he worked seven innings for the first time in almost 14 months, allowing two harmless singles and a Mookie Betts homer while striking out nine.
Even so, deGrom said, “There were quite a few balls hit hard and they were all mistakes — and they hit mistakes. I had good defense behind me tonight and I’m thankful for that.”
Nimmo provided the best defense of all. A free agent after this season, Nimmo has worked diligently to improve his outfield range and said he had gained an extra foot per second to his speed since 2020. He added that analytics had helped his positioning, including on Turner’s at-bat in the seventh, when Nimmo shaded him to the right-field side of center.
He needed the head start. With one out, Turner lashed a 100 mile-an-hour fastball over Nimmo’s head, near the spot where the eight-foot wall angles toward the right field corner. Nimmo had little time to assess his surroundings.
“I knew it was hit well off the bat, so my concern was just getting back to the fence as quick as I could,” he said.
“But it was hit on a line so I didn’t have a chance to look back at the wall. Fortunately from playing out there a lot now, I kind of had a feeling I was near the wall and I needed to go ahead and jump. So the timing was right on it and everything worked out just perfectly. Jumped up, felt the ball hit my glove and I knew it didn’t bounce out once it got in there. And then all the emotion spilled out.”
Nimmo bounded back to the field, smiling and shouting (“Let’s go!”), clutching the ball in his bare hand to show the crowd. DeGrom, usually so stoic on the mound, raised both arms in celebration and doffed his cap to Nimmo.
“That was what saved the game there,” right fielder Starling Marte — who drove in Nimmo with a two-run homer off Tyler Anderson in the third inning — said through a translator. “That was a tremendous catch. Just the emotion he had there, it motivates me to go out there and play with that level of emotion.”
With a narrow lead over Atlanta in the N.L. East — just three games after the Braves’ 3-2 victory over Colorado on Wednesday — the Mets will take all the extra motivation they can get. Yet the impact of any victory is fleeting, and the Mets face the imposing Clayton Kershaw on Thursday afternoon.
“I need to start toning down a little bit,” Nimmo said. “Otherwise, I won’t fall asleep til 6 a.m.”
By closing August in style, the Mets pulled even in their season series with the Dodgers, three games apiece. Thursday’s matinee is not a true Game 7, of course, but let’s raise a trumpet for the possibility of an October rematch with a pennant at stake.
“I can’t wait for Díaz to play this at a World Series victory,” Timmy Trumpet said before the series. “I’ll be there for that one.”