Juan Lagares makes most of return to lineup as Mets beat Nationals

Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) backs up second
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Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) backs up second baseman Daniel Murphy (28) who catches a fly ball for the out on the Washington Nationals' Jayson Werth during the fifth inning of a game at Nationals Park on Sunday, May 18, 2014.(Credit: AP / Alex Brandon)

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WASHINGTON - Juan Lagares raced toward the fence Saturday in pursuit of a rocket. Had it been most anybody else in centerfield, Jayson Werth simply could have admired his shot, then trotted around the bases. The sound alone was enough to bring a sellout crowd to attention.

What came next was a sliver of why Mets fans have clamored for more of Lagares.

After reaching the fence, he timed his leap perfectly, extending his glove to about a foot over the wall. The ball landed in his mitt, forcing a stunned crowd at Nationals Park to appreciate his grace.

"I know I can play," said Lagares, who led the Mets to a 5-2 victory over the Nationals. "That's what I do. That's what I'm here for."

This week, Mets manager Terry Collins infuriated fans by benching Lagares in four of his team's previous five games, citing a need to get more offense into the lineup. But that argument looked hollow Saturday, when aside from his latest highlight-worthy grab, Lagares went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer.

It came in support of Mets starter Bartolo Colon, who limited the Nationals to just two runs in eight efficient innings.

Starter-turned-reliever Jenrry Mejia capped it off by working a scoreless ninth to make good on his first big-league save chance.

Lagares finished with three RBIs and the Mets ended a three-game skid.

"He had a good game," Collins said. "It's great. That's why we put him in there today. It was a good scenario to put him in against a lefthanded pitcher."

The Mets chased Gio Gonzalez after three innings, pelting him for five runs and seven hits, including a two-run single by Eric Campbell in the first. Lagares followed with a run-scoring single to make it 3-0 -- an appetizer for the two-run shot he hit off Gonzalez in the third.

The Nationals cut into the lead in the fourth when Ian Desmond blasted a two-run homer. But it was the only real blemish on a day that belonged to Lagares. Earlier this month, Collins installed Lagares as the starting centerfielder, only to go back on his declaration. As his highlight-reel catch showed, the Mets have no doubts about Lagares' Gold Glove-caliber defense.

"He does something like that every day," Campbell said. "It's unbelievable . . . I've seen him do it probably 10 times now. As soon as I see a ball like that hit, and I see Juan get a good first step, I know it's an out."

But Collins said Lagares has been the odd man out of late because he had lapsed into some flaws at the plate. During his time out of the lineup, he worked on mechanics and focused on plate discipline.

He needed little time to show of the work he'd done during his forced hiatus.

"That's one of the things that good players do," Collins said. "They listen, they work at something, and they take it into the game and apply it."

The question remains whether he'll keep getting chances to apply himself. Collins said Lagares will start in Sunday's series finale, but he offered no guarantees after that.

The Mets' outfield situation is crowded, with Collins committed to giving time to Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young, with rightfielder Curtis Granderson the only mainstay. Once again, the Mets' most exciting player this season may be forced to watch.

"I tried to be positive, tried to do my work in the cage, and tried to ready for the opportunity," Lagares said. "I think that's the key. Be positive and keep working, that's the only thing we can control."

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