Mancuso: Pagan On Mets Contending & His Love Of Boxing

Angel Pagan returned to Citi Field Friday night again on the opposite side with the San Francisco Giants but his passion was always in New York with the Mets  The Mets were his original team as a fourth round pick in the draft back in 1999. Later he was reacquired from the Chicago Cubs in 2008.

But his passion for the Mets was always there after a trade to the Giants for right hander pitcher Ramon Ramirez and outfielder Andres Torres in December of 2011.  You see changes in personnel at Citi Field every year, just like players going elsewhere, but Pagan always looked at New York as home  despite being a part of  two World Series championship teams with the Giants during those years of 2012 and 2014.

Yes, the even number years, which makes 2016 a cinch for the Giants to win another world championship?

“Don’t pay attention to the even year,” he said Friday night in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field and prior to the opening of a three game series with the Mets. “It doesn’t matter. You pay attention to the chemistry. It’s about 25 guys. Today it could you, today it could be me.”

In other words, as Pagan says, the Giants have the nucleus of 25 guys that have talent and the ability to win another championship, though the NL West with the defending champion Dodgers are favorites and the Arizona Diamondbacks are expected to be tough until the end.  Do throw out the theory of the even year and play out the schedule with hopes of playing ball deep into October.

The Giants could be there at the end,  They acquired formidable additions to their starting pitching in the offseason in left hander Johnny Cueto and righthander Jeff Samardzija. And that’s  a good addition to go along with Jake Peavy, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgamer.

And then there is Pagan who is a catalyst to the lineup because of his versatility to play center and now his new position in left.  Pitching and defense win ballgames, as the Mets have displayed,with their young arms and new middle infield of Neil Walker and Asorubal Cabrera. Manager Bruce Bochy has Pagan in the leadoff spot, sometimes batting second and ninth after the pitcher.

“I can hit anywhere,”said Pagan. “ I can be a leadoff man as well as get the RBI. That’s why they brought me here in 2012. I can hit anywhere in the lineup, fifth to cleanup. To them it’s not about me hitting home runs, that’s why they put me in that situation. I won’t change my approach.”

The Giants have newcomer Denard Span in center and Hunter Pence in right field and now Pagan has switched to left, a position he believes will prolong his career because there is less stress on the legs and running after a ball.

“Great lineup and great defending team, “ he says referring  all-star catcher Buster Posey and the first baseman Brandon Belt. “ Great opportunities to win ballgames.”  There are more, and many more reasons why the Giants can win it all again in this an even year of 2016.

But a difference maker could be Pagan. He is healthy again, running like a youngster and swinging with authority. Friday night his second home run of the young season, in the seventh inning ,was the lone run for the Giants off a Jerry Blevins fastball in the Mets 13-1  win. New York in the third inning  scored a franchise record 12 runs.

Pagan, 34-years of age and in the last year of his four-year contract, had an offseason surgical procedure to his right knee known as Tenex. They scan tissue to the bad area and the process is easier and more effective than a scope. Left field and batting at the top of the order, or ninth as he did Friday night, at this point in his career as he says, “Is different but paying off now.”

“Another thing that can help propel me is playing left,” he said. “It’s helping me keep me in left and  keep the body strong.  I changed my personal trainer to one of the best in Puerto Rico that understood what I am going through.”

He also had assistance with a chiropractor, went for massage therapy and did not play Winter ball as he prepared in his hometown of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico.  All of that has helped Pagan to a good start and, he comes into the series finale Sunday batting .315  with 28 hits in 89 at bats, with the .361 on base percentage.

Saturday afternoon, and with the Giants trailing by a run in the ninth inning, Pagan hit into a double play off a 97- mile sinker from Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia. Pagan ran hard and the play was close at first, but it put an end to the Giants hopes of coming back and preventing the Mets from winning their eighth straight game.

“It was a sinker,” Pagan said. “That’s all he throws…good sinker, good pitch. I’m a type of player that don’t look at pitches. I read, I look at a spot more than pitches.”  In this case it was Familia with a sinker that is quickly making him one of the premier closers in the game.

And Pagan knew Familia would be a good pitcher. In the Mets organization ,and when rehabbing with an injury in Single-A ball, he got to know the closer, outfielder Juan Lagares who became the heir apparent to Pagan, before Yoenis Cespedes arrived in town, and as he says, Mets ace Matt Harvey.

He knew the Mets would become a team that would go far, and with young talent that helped them get to the World Series last season.

“That’s a good pitching staff, “ he says about Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz who got the win Friday night, and Jacob deGrom (3-0) who got the win Saturday. “Guys that have World Series experience  that gives them the confidence of a winner. They have great talent, enough to go far.”

He added: “You could see those guys coming together, making another reference again to Harvey, Lagares and Familia, three of the closest teammates that remain from his tenure with the Mets. But, Pagan knew what was coming for the Mets organization and admits there was disappointment when he was traded to the Giants.
New York is special. There is family and many friends in the area that he makes sure to please with leaving tickets when he is in town. And there will be more requests in mid July when the Giants go cross town and play a three-game weekend interleague series in the Bronx against the Yankees.

“Always hear the New York fans are hard,” he says. “You go out there and give it all and they appreciate that. Every organization has a meaning to me. I thank the Mets because they believed in my talent in high school. They traded me and brought me back. It’s a great organization  and I enjoyed it here.”

And what about the New York fans who still welcome him when he comes to the Plate? “Good thing about the fans here is they always appreciated how I always came here and played hard. Doing my best now to help this team. Good or bad, I busted my butt and played for the fans and they respected that.”

Then there is that other sport called boxing. Pagan is an avid fan and friend of eight-time division champion Manny Pacquiao.  He picks your ear about the fights before going into the baseball talk and asks if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. will fight again. He analyzes upcoming fights and when on the road, or when the Giants are at home, after a game he makes sure to tune into the fights.
You get the feeling that boxing, his other passion would have been his thing if it were not for baseball, and in Puerto Rico those are the dominant sports he grew up with. He uses the boxing mentality when it comes to conditioning and also studies the fights.

He asked, holding and feeling the bat he would use for the night: “Who wins the fight, Canelo or Khan? The mega fight between Mexican Canelo Alvarez and Amir Khan is next Saturday on HBO pay-per-view and the Giants have an afternoon game with the Rockies at home. So Pagan will be watching the fight between  the two premiere fighters at 154, a fight that will have Khan come up in weight.

“Canelo is the bigger guy,” he says. “I’m not taking anything away from Khan,…He is fast. But moving up weight. Canelo is stronger. He has the edge.  And what is it with Miguel Cotto?Who does he fight next?” Pagan offers his opinion and does not know the next step for Cotto, the first four-division champion from Puerto Rico.
That passion for another sport may put Pagan in the boxing industry when the playing days are over, though he will not commit to anything because for now it’s all about the Giants and getting to another World Series.

“But Pacquiao needs to come back and fight Mayweather again” he says. “He is healthy now.” And, Angel Pagan is also healthy now which makes it a distinct possibility that the Giants could be playing baseball again in October in this even year.

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About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and BoxingInsider.com, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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