Kevin Pillar did the above Monday night, making the catch of the season — at least until the next catch of the season.
It was a spectacular play, an instant reaction on that difficult-to-read line drive over his head. It helped that Pillar was already playing relatively deep with Jose Ramirez at the plate, but he still had to put on his Superman cape at the last moment to haul it in, keying the Blue Jays’ 4-2 win over the Indians.
I’ve wondered this: Are we in the golden age of defense in center field? Kevin Kiermaier is the reigning king, winner of two straight Gold Gloves with the highlight plays and defensive metrics to back up his awards. Since the start of the 2015 season, he easily leads all defenders in Defensive Runs Saved at plus-74 runs — well ahead of the plus-43 for Nolan Arenado and Starling Marte.
Go through the rest of the American League, and you realize the depth at the position. Pillar makes as many Web Gem-worthy catches as anyone. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Byron Buxton are Gold Glove candidates, and Lorenzo Cain remains an outstanding defender.
Over in the National League, Billy Hamilton is one of the fastest runners in the sport’s history, with the elite range to go with it. But he didn’t even win the Gold Glove last season; that went to Ender Inciarte, thanks to catches such as this one. Padres rookie Manuel Margot is a future stud, and Odubel Herrera covers a lot of ground as well. I didn’t even mention Mike Trout, who almost looks like a Prius in this group.
Is this the best era ever? Here are some other candidates:
2001: Peak Andruw Jones, peak Darin Erstad, peak Mike Cameron, peak Torii Hunter, young Carlos Beltran, Jim Edmonds, Doug Glanville, Johnny Damon, Chris Singleton, Mark Kotsay, Steve Finley, aging Kenny Lofton, a heavier and injured Ken Griffey Jr.
That’s an impressive group. Jones at his best might have been the best center fielder ever. Erstad’s 2002 season — the year the Angels won the World Series — rates as one of the best seasons by a center fielder via defensive metrics, and he was pretty good in 2001. Back when Gold Glove outfielders could come from any position, Jones, Edmonds, Cameron and Hunter were the Gold Glove winners. Erstad won in 2000 and 2002, and Finley won in 2000 and 2004 (when he was 39 years old).
1992: Peak Devon White, young Kenny Lofton, young Ken Griffey Jr., Steve Finley, Darrin Jackson, Lance Johnson, Otis Nixon, Marquis Grissom, old Willie Wilson, aging Kirby Puckett, Deion Sanders, Andy Van Slyke, Ellis Burks, Lenny Dykstra.
The Gold Glove winners included White, Griffey, Puckett and Van Slyke, though the metrics wouldn’t necessarily agree with Griffey, Puckett and Van Slyke. Indeed, Puckett moved to right field the next season. White is definitely a forgotten great defender, and Lofton was a terrific defender for a long time.
1986: Peak Garry Pettis, peak Kirby Puckett, peak Eric Davis, young Barry Bonds, young Lenny Dykstra, Chet Lemon, Dwayne Murphy, Willie McGee, Rickey Henderson, Willie Wilson, Robin Yount, Dale Murphy.
Pettis couldn’t hit, but he was a five-time Gold Glove winner. Dwayne Murphy didn’t win a Gold Glove in 1986 but won the previous six seasons. McGee and Dale Murphy won Gold Gloves in 1986, though Murphy’s was probably more by reputation, and Davis won the next three seasons. This group has the added bonus of Bonds and Henderson — two great left fielders — playing center.
Just by eyeballing it, the 2001 group might get the edge over 2017, but this discussion deserves a more in-depth study. Until then, enjoy the great catches.
Then there was everything else that happened Monday night: This tweet kind of sums up a sloppy night of baseball:
What is happening … ? pic.twitter.com/lD5EAWAaRo
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) May 9, 2017
That doesn’t include the worst play of the night. It was the top of the ninth, Orioles up 6-4 on the Nationals, and the Nationals had runners on second and third with one out when this happened:
— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 9, 2017
I’m not sure what Adam Lind was doing. He should have run home on the play; even though he’s slow, there’s no way the first baseman would throw home on the play. Instead, Lind held on third, Trea Turner didn’t pay attention to Lind, and the Nationals ended up with two runners on third base. Lind blamed himself after the game — as he should have.
Aside from that, it was a nice win for the Orioles, with Kevin Gausman — coming off that abbreviated 20-pitch effort in which he was ejected for hitting Xander Bogaerts with a 76 mph curveball — throwing his best game of the season. He struck out eight in seven innings after not striking out more than four batters in any of his previous seven starts.
Hey, remember when the Cardinals were terrible? Guess who leads the NL Central? The Cardinals were 3-9, and St. Louis talk radio was in full panic mode. Since then, the Cardinals have gone 14-5. Carlos Martinez was the star on Monday with his bat, as he went 2-for-3 with four RBIs. While Matt Carpenter (.423 OBP) and Jedd Gyorko (.337/.392/.652) have been raking, another key has been Kolten Wong. He has just one home run, but his focus on getting on base has produced an effective 278/.369/.443 line, and he has almost as many walks as strikeouts, plus nine doubles.
Hey, remember when the Mets were terrible? Ahh, the baseball roller coaster.
METS IN SHAMBLES
Win 7th in last 10
— Greg Prince (@greg_prince) May 9, 2017
The Mets were 8-13 after that disastrous Thursday afternoon game when Noah Syndergaard was supposed to start but couldn’t. Then Matt Harvey was terrible, and then Yoenis Cespedes injured his hamstring.
But after the Mets beat the Giants 4-3 on Neil Walker‘s walk-off single Monday, they’re 15-16. Even without Syndergaard for a long time and Cespedes for maybe two more weeks, this is a time for the Mets to make a run. They have two more against the struggling Giants and then series against the Brewers, Diamondbacks, Angels, Padres, Pirates, Brewers again, Pirates again, Rangers and Braves before they face the Cubs and Nationals in mid-June.
Quick thoughts … Nice effort by Masahiro Tanaka to gut out seven innings and 112 pitches to save his bullpen after that 18-inning game on Sunday night. … Brett Gardner has six home runs in his past nine games, and the Yankees are now playing .700 baseball. Here’s a fun graphic:
— Daren Willman (@darenw) May 9, 2017
Keep an eye on Chris Taylor. It’s a small sample, but he is tearing it up for the Dodgers, who acquired him from the Mariners last summer for Zach Lee in what could turn into a bad trade, seeing as Lee was soon released by Seattle. … Cody Bellinger might be in the process of Wally Pipp-ing Adrian Gonzalez. … And, yes, the Rockies and Cubs were hailed out. Doubleheader on Tuesday!