Pagan turns rare trick, earns more looks

WASHINGTON -- New York Mets center fielder Angel Pagan contributed an inside-the-park home run for a second straight season.

He had a run-saving diving catch.

He one-upped that grab the next inning by initiating a triple play with a shoestring grab.

And, afterward, his manager suggested the Mets would have to find playing time for him once Carlos Beltran returns -- whenever that may be.

Yet after becoming the first player in 55 years to hit an inside-the-park homer and initiate a triple play in the same game, Pagan did not have any glow. The performance came in the latest loss by the Mets, a 5-3 defeat to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night that dropped the not-so-Amazins to 1-6 entering the final game of a three-city road trip.

"If we would have won that game it would have been a lot of fun," Pagan said.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, making his Mets debut in Oliver Perez's rotation spot, breezed through three innings, beginning with his own full-out sprawling catch by the plate of Nyjer Morgan's two-strike leadoff bunt.

Pagan, for the second straight season, then got to flash his athleticism. Last year, against Pedro Martinez and the Phillies at Citi Field, Pagan sprinted around the bases for an inside-the-park homer. This time, he did it off another ex-Met -- Livan Hernandez -- on a fourth-inning shot to center field.

Not that Pagan realized the potential for an inside-the-parker until third base coach Chip Hale started waving his arm.

"I knew the ball hit the wall and stuff," Pagan said. "I was kind of slowing down when I was rounding third. So when he told me to go, I'm like, 'Whoa.' I kind of threw the anchor."

The Mets scrapped their annual track-and-field-style physical testing of players at the start of spring training this year -- part of their "Prevention & Recovery" theme to avoid unnecessarily risking injuries. In recent years, Pagan had tested off the charts, winning every category, even over supreme athletes such as shortstop Jose Reyes. So it was no surprise that Pagan's athleticism twice flashed itself in the field.

In the fourth inning, after Dickey looked mortal by allowing the first four Nationals batters to reach base, the knuckleballer struck out Ivan Rodriguez. Roger Bernadina followed with a drive to left-center field that looked like a potential bases-loaded gapper. Pagan dove and snared the ball, limiting the damage to a sacrifice fly that allowed Washington to take a 2-1 lead.

In Pagan's inside-the-park homer game in '09 against the Phillies, it was infielder Eric Bruntlett of the Phillies who turned a game-ending unassisted triple play against Jeff Francoeur.

This time, Pagan added to his hitting feat and shoestring grab in the fifth inning by becoming the first player since Ted Kazanski with the 1955 Phillies to hit an inside-the-park homer and initiate a triple play in the same game.

Pagan raced in on Cristian Guzman's sinking liner. The runners, Hernandez and Morgan -- both initially doubting Pagan could reach the ball -- were victimized on what is believed to be the first 8-2-6-3 triple play in recorded major league history.

"I'm at third base, and I think he dropped the ball," Hernandez said. "When I see the umpire called out, I said, 'Uh-oh.' And when I see Morgan at second base, I say, 'Uh-oh.' I say, 'We in trouble.'"

Pagan had no doubt.

"It was a tough catch, but I made it," Pagan said.

The Mets have now turned 10 triple plays in franchise history. The most recent before Wednesday: May 17, 2002, at San Diego, when Edgardo Alfonzo, Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn combined.

"[Pagan] is a guy, you know, even when Carlos comes back, he's going to have to be in the mix out there somewhere because he's playing that well," Manuel said.

Not that Pagan could fully appreciate his feats, or the adulation.

"Right now we're having a tough time," Pagan said. "But, for sure, we're going to keep fighting. We've got to find a way."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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