The shortstop's latest act of theft took place in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's game at Citi Field. The Mets had trimmed the Braves' lead from 3-1 to 3-2 thanks to singles from Eric Young Jr. and Juan Lagares sandwiched around a Curtis Granderson walk. Lucas Duda grounded into a double play in the next at-bat, leaving Granderson at third base representing the tying run. That's when Travis d'Arnaud — one of the team's hottest hitters of late (which admittedly isn't saying much) — came to the plate.
Facing heat-throwing Jordan Walden, d'Arnaud caught up to a 96 mph fastball and slapped it to the left side of the diamond. When it reached the outfield grass, it appeared that he would plate the tying run — except Simmons somehow managed to reach the ball, backhand it and make the kind of off-balance jump throw that brought a young Derek Jeter fame. Though the peg from the shadow of Terminal D of LaGuardia Airport didn’t reach Freddie Freeman on the fly, the first baseman adeptly dug it out of the dirt on one hop. Inning over.
This isn’t the first time Simmons has robbed d’Arnaud this year, either; he’s suppressed the backstop’s meager .228 batting average by at least 10 points.
While the Braves needed to make a play at the plate in the ninth to extricate closer Craig Kimbrel from a jam and preserve their slim margin, the degree of difficulty on that wasn't nearly as high as that play from Simmons.
Of course, it's no surprise that the 24-year-old shortstop showed off his wizardry. Not only did he cart away a passel of awards last year — the Fielding Bible award as the best shortstop in either league, the NL Gold Glove at short as well as the NL Platinum Glove as the best defensive player in the entire league — he's put up eye-opening defensive numbers in each of his three major league seasons. His 41 Defensive Runs Saved last year tied Gerardo Parra as the highest total in the stat's 11-season history, enabling him to the league's fourth-highest Wins Above Replacement total (6.9) among position players, no small feat for a .248/.296/.396 hitter. His 22 DRS this year leads all major league infielders, though it's below his prorated career rate (+34 per 1,200 innings).
The Braves were particularly in need of Simmons’ heroics on Wednesday night, as they helped snap a three-game losing streak. The team is now 69-64, and while their 6 1/2-game deficit in the NL East will be tough to overcome even with a half-dozen games remaining against the Nationals (over whom they hold a 9-4 season series edge), they're 1 1/2 back in the Wild Card hunt, tied with the Pirates. Even with Pittsburgh posting a victory over St. Louis on Wednesday night, the Braves gained a whopping 6.6 percentage points according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report, lifting their overall chances at making the postseason to 40.1 percent.