SEATTLE -- Remember that play when Derek Jeter went flying into the stands after making a catch? Well, Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan did his best to top that performance.
In the bottom of the fifth inning of Cleveland’s 3-2 11-inning loss to the Mariners on Friday night at T-Mobile Park, Kwan soared through the air in foul territory, leaped over the waist-high wall and belly flopped onto a row of empty seats in the stands – all while he made an improbable catch to record the first out of the frame.
“That's about as good a play you're ever going to see from an outfielder going into the stands,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Pretty, pretty awesome play by him.”
Mariners backstop Cal Raleigh served a high fly ball down the left-field line. If Kwan was going to get there, which he was confident he could, he needed to cover 99 feet before the ball hit the ground. Thanks to an elite sprint speed of 28.4 feet per second, according to Statcast, Kwan got there in plenty of time.
“With the jump I had, I thought I had a decent shot at it,” Kwan said.
Then, came the more painful -- but impressive -- part of the play. So much of the play resembled what Jeter did against the Red Sox in 2004. However, Kwan may have upped the ante. Jeter’s catch was made while both feet were still on the ground and he dove into the stands after running out of space to slow down. Kwan on the other hand, made the catch as both feet left the ground and half of his body was already over the wall.
Kwan hurried to get the ball back to the infield to prevent the runners on first and second from advancing more than one base. After he released the ball, he doubled over in pain and the Guardians’ athletic training staff hustled out to check on him.
“It was just a little frightening,” Kwan said. “I tried to take a deep breath and then, like nothing came out. Luckily [head athletic trianer] James [Quinlan] came through and told me to take deep breaths through my nose and that helped a lot. In the moment it was just kind of scary.”
“I thought he was really hurt,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I was afraid. … I think we probably dodged a pretty big bullet there. He said he's OK. That was some kind of play.”
Kwan’s defense has been solid all season, and it’s only gotten better as he’s gained more experience. He entered the day in the 93rd percentile in Statcast’s outs above average defensive metric. But he had never done something quite as impressive as this play.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Kwan said. “Hitting can go up and down, but defense should never slump. If you’re really intentional with that and you put a lot of hard work into it, you should always be consistent and help the team. So, I always try to do that, regardless of what I do at the plate.”
He admitted after the final out that he was pretty sore and was heading to the cold tub to ice himself and recover, but that didn’t prevent him from remaining in the contest. Not only did Kwan insist on staying in the game, but he led off the next inning with a single and scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly.
“He's fearless,” Francona said. “He's all the things we talk about. That's why we talk about him.”
As much as the Guardians tried to rally behind Kwan’s efforts, the lack of a timely hit and an 11th-inning blunder from first baseman Owen Miller not cutting an off-the-mark throw from Oscar Gonzalez resulted in a loss. And with a Twins victory, Cleveland’s lead in the division fell to three games.
But the biggest takeaway is that the Guardians likely dodged an enormous bullet by not losing one of their best players to serious injury. He’s been the heartbeat of this lineup, as he extended his on-base streak to 17 games on Friday and has thrived defensively, as we saw with his heroic grab.
“Obviously an integral part of what we’ve got going on here,” Guardians starter Shane Bieber siad. “It was a great catch, but we need him to be OK and healthy for the rest of the year if we’re going to do what we want to do.”