Curtis Granderson turned his back to the infield and took off on a breathless sprint, the fate of the Mets’ season possibly riding on the ball that had been hit over his head.
Never mind that centerfield isn’t really his position. Never mind that there’s been plenty of talk about how his 35-year-old body would adapt to the rigors of the new role. If there’s one thing that defines Granderson’s career, it’s that he plays the part of the good soldier very well. He’s a steadying presence in the lineup and the clubhouse, who does what he’s asked even if it’s uncomfortable.
And so Granderson — who moved to center after the Mets acquired Jay Bruce at the non-waiver trade deadline — found himself in the untenable position of trying to save the go-ahead run in the sixth inning, when Brandon Belt belted Noah Syndergaard’s 97-mph sinker to straightaway center with Denard Span on second. Granderson turned his back on the ball, he ran, he extended his glove as he reached the warning track, following it from over his shoulder.
And then he made a postseason catch worthy of Endy Chavez, circa 2006.
Granderson’s shoulder and his face smacked into the wall in straightaway center and he went down, holding on to the final out of the inning the whole time. Syndergaard roared in appreciation; Belt slammed his helmet to the ground in disbelief. Granderson, still rattled, made his way off the field as the crowd chanted his name, thankful this wild-card game was still scoreless.
“The best thing about Curtis is that he never lets anything bother him,” a prophetic Terry Collins said after the Mets’ workout on Tuesday. “When I put him in centerfield, I knew he didn’t particularly care to play centerfield anymore. He had gotten comfortable in rightfield. But he understands for the betterment of the team he needs to play centerfield.”
It hasn’t been without its hiccups. Granderson himself acknowledged that the position takes its toll, and though he’s never complained, he’s certainly spoken about how he’s had to adapt. It takes contributions from all sides, he said, to make sure he doesn’t have to cover more ground than strictly necessary.
“Just learn, trust, use my corner outfielders to try to blanket as much as we can and pinch when we need to,” he said when asked about his strategy Tuesday.
He’s played 37 games in center, and came into the game with a range factor of 2.38, just around the league average. But for that one moment Wednesday, Granderson, the reluctant centerfielder, gave the Mets one of their biggest gifts of the night.
It was uncomfortable, no doubt, and just a little bit painful, but you probably won’t be hearing him complain about it.