Francisco Lindor of the Mets throws for an out at first base...

Francisco Lindor of the Mets throws for an out at first base against the Marlins during the third inning on Opening Day at loanDepot park on Thursday in Miami, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Megan Briggs

MIAMI -- Tylor Megill was teetering on the brink of disaster Saturday in the fifth inning, his emergency start for the injured Justin Verlander one more hit away from catastrophe. Not to mention any chance of nailing down a win, something to make that quick round-trip from Syracuse a little sweeter.

So with the count full, two outs and two Marlins in scoring position, Megill threw a slider to Bryan De La Cruz. All Megill knew was that the ball was hit hard and pulled to the left side. Fortunately for him, Francisco Lindor knew it was coming.

Plenty goes into being an All-Star shortstop. Quickness and arm strength at the top of the list. But the best also have a sixth sense, a vision of what’s next, and Lindor could see the play happening before De La Cruz even made contact.

“I was anticipating it,” Lindor said after the Mets wrapped up a 6-2 victory Saturday over the Marlins that seemed more difficult than the final score indicated. “I felt like it was coming my way and I wanted it.”

There was no else the Mets would have preferred to handle such a huge moment in the game, with Megill clinging to a 4-2 lead and Miami stirring to life. Lindor is the guy they want the ball to find, and this early in the season, he already looks better at shortstop than at any other point in his two-plus seasons with the Mets.

But let’s get back to the play. De La Cruz smoked a line drive toward the hole, and it skipped once on the infield dirt before Lindor snagged it on his backhand, three steps deep onto the leftfield turf. Once Lindor got his feet planted, he spun and rifled a perfect throw -- on the fly -- that beat De La Cruz by a solid half-step.

Lindor pointed to the sky once the ball landed safely in Pete Alonso’s mitt. A pumped-up Megill clapped his glove repeatedly, screaming, “Let’s gooo!” The Marlins mounted a pair of rallies late, but it seemed as if the game hinged on that Lindor back-breaker.


“That was awesome,” Megill said. “It was incredible.”

Lindor has been making the awesome look surprisingly routine only three games into this young season, and it’s not a coincidence. He was a vocal proponent of banning defensive shifts all along, but not because Lindor was hoping for a boost at the plate. He believed that it was better for the sport’s popularity if defenders could showcase their athleticism rather than just be arranged like chess pieces, waiting for the ball to be smacked directly at them, courtesy of the data-driven algorithms.

Now with the shift ban in place, as part of MLB’s new rules for this season, Lindor is enjoying his freedom. No longer caged in by the analytics, we’re seeing Lindor truly get a chance to shine, nine years into his career -- and the second season of his 10-year, $341 million deal with the Mets. This could be the most entertaining version of Lindor yet.

“There’s a lot more space now,” Lindor said. “It just feels amazing to be able to move, and credit to the people who are positioning me -- they’re putting me in the right spot. So hat’s off to them.”

The shift ban was implemented to create more action, and that doesn’t necessarily mean more bloop hits or ground balls through unprotected infield holes. It also translates to the defenders patrolling more territory, as Lindor alluded to. While the new rule has been more of a headache for the analytic departments, as their defensive options are somewhat limited, Lindor is having a blast.

“One hundred percent,” Lindor said. “I don’t have to hesitate to know where I’m going. I just go.”

Watching Lindor over these first three games, one could make the assumption that his arm appears to be stronger. He’s already fired a number of long throws -- all right on the money. And his average velocity has climbed over the past two years, going from 80.5  mph in his first season with the Mets to 83.3 mph last year (according to Baseball Savant).

It’s a bit early for a definitive sample size this season, but Lindor says there isn’t any difference. Saturday’s eye-popping throw traveled quite far, and yet it only registered 79 mph, creating sort of an optical illusion based on the play’s overall brilliance.

“I don’t think it’s stronger,” Lindor said, laughing. “I think it has been consistently slow, or soft, for the past nine years ... I put everything I got on that (throw).”

Lindor mentioned his footwork as the key component, a sentiment that Buck Showalter echoed, and the manager noted that his shortstop had a great spring defensively. Even when Lindor isn’t having a great day at the plate, such as his fourth-inning K that stranded two Mets, he can still be a difference-maker with his glove. And that was the biggest factor Saturday in backing Megill.

“It feels amazing,” Lindor said. “I love playing defense. Megill’s been working, working, working and he got himself in a jam. To be able to help him out, that just feels great.”

The Mets probably felt even better, especially Megill.

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