A home run’s not a home run until it leaves the ballpark. Just ask Victor Robles.
The Nationals' stealthy center fielder masterfully robbed Braves third baseman Austin Riley of a go-ahead two-run homer with a snow-cone grab at the wall in the fifth inning on Tuesday at Truist Park. He lifted his left arm to display the ball in his glove, then looked down at it as he ran off the field.
Yes, it was in there.
“Awesome catch,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Game saver right there, it really was.”
Robles’ acrobatic defensive play preserved the Nationals’ one-run lead they had built by batting around in a four-run fifth inning. It was a key moment in their 8-5 comeback victory to even the three-game series against the National League East rival.
“Right now, I would put that play at the very top of my list, mainly because I helped the team save two runs,” Robles said. “Not only that, [kept] them ahead of the game and we ended up winning the game.”
Riley's smack off Wander Suero had a 103 mph exit velocity and 28-degree launch angle, good for a .910 expected batting average. Robbing it, Robles said, was “complete instinct.” He works with Nats first-base coach Bob Henley before road trips to get acquainted with the outfield walls at visiting stadiums.
“I work every day real hard on my defense so that the plays become a little easier for me to make,” he said.
Robles, a 2019 Gold Glove Award finalist, ran 88 feet to make the impeccably timed catch. First-year teammate Eric Thames had seen Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Lorenzo Cain make stellar defensive catches while playing together on the Brewers, but Robles’ athletic nab had a special spin on it.
“The timing is what throws that off,” Thames said. “There are a lot of guys that have the athleticism to jump up there and do all that crazy stuff. But to time it and jump up and catch it, Victor is a really good center fielder. I am very impressed. Gold Gloves are coming.”
Robles is building off of an impressive first full Major League season in which he led all outfielders with 22 outs above average and ranked second with 348 putouts. It’s those accomplishments over time that build up into a split-second, head-turning moment.
“He did everything right,” Martinez said. “He got the glove up and he robbed a home run. ... Victor can do that kind of stuff. It was awesome.”
Staying quick on his feet, Robles doubled and dashed home on a Trea Turner single to give the Nationals an insurance run and a 7-5 lead in the eighth. He finished the night 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored. He is batting .267 with a .738 OPS on the season.
“I feel good,” Robles said. “I’ve been feeling very comfortable at the plate. This game is going to bring you some good days and bad days. I just know I’ve got to keep working and improving.”
If he keeps improving on defense, opposing batters will have to hit the balls with extra power to get past him in center field.