MILWAUKEE -- What's better: A walk-off home run or some walk-off robbery?The Brewers were still buzzing Thursday morning after shortstop Orlando Arcia and first baseman Eric Thames combined for the latter in Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Pirates. Arcia's daring spin and throw to Thames' soft-handed scoop prompted another question.
MILWAUKEE -- What's better: A walk-off home run or some walk-off robbery?
The Brewers were still buzzing Thursday morning after shortstop Orlando Arcia and first baseman Eric Thames combined for the latter in Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Pirates. Arcia's daring spin and throw to Thames' soft-handed scoop prompted another question. What are the best game-ending defensive plays in Brewers history?
So we searched the archives for highlight-reel examples of run prevention, not just meaningful ones. So, our apologies to Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper for the 6-3 groundout that clinched a trip to the 1982 World Series, to Ben Sheets for fanning Johnny Estrada to finish a franchise-record-setting 18-strikeout game in 2004, and to Carsten Sabathia for his National League Wild Card berth-clinching double play to cap a complete game in the '08 finale.
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In chronological order, here are four game-ending defensive gems that sprung to mind:
April 15, 1987: Yount's dive
Did Robin Yount have to leave his feet to catch Eddie Murray's sinking liner to right-center field to save Juan Nieves' no-hitter on that dreary night in Baltimore? That's been debated for years, but the fact he did makes this play one of the most memorable clinchers in franchise history. It remains the Brewers' only-no-hitter.
April 29, 2012: Double play the hard way
That it happened in St. Louis in the opening month following the Brewers' NL Championship Series loss to the Cardinals added to the impact of this play, but it also stands on its own. Closer John Axford was in a jam after the Cardinals put runners on the corners with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game, but he recovered by striking out David Freese and Yadier Molina. When the runner broke from first on the second whiff, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and shortstop Alex Gonzalez combined on an unconventional double play, getting the final out at home plate to seal the win.
July 9, 2013: Gomez robs Votto
The reactions of the players involved made this game-ender special. Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez saw the baseball rocket off Joey Votto's bat and didn't even look, so sure he'd just surrendered a go-ahead homer. Center fielder Carlos Gomez made a leaping catch at the wall to pull it back, raised his right index finger in the air when he came back down and started dancing toward the dugout. Votto pointed in Gomez's direction and demanded proof that the ball was in his glove. When Gomez obliged, Votto doubled over in disbelief. Gomez did it to Votto again the following season, albeit not in the ninth inning.
"I've never hit [a walk-off home run]," Gomez said that night, "but I've caught a home run ball to win the game. It's something special. You can't wait to get home and see it over and over."
That's probably how Arcia was feeling Wednesday night. Had he been unable to reach John Jaso's sharp grounder, or had the throw to first been offline, the Pirates would have tied the game.
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"I think it was just instinct," said Arcia through translator Carlos Brizuela. "Instinct came out, and I went for it."
The Brewers are already lobbying for Arcia as a Rawlings Gold Glove Award candidate, tagging the company in a tweet on Thursday morning with video of the game-winner. Manager Craig Counsell made the case that Arcia is better than his defensive metrics, which rate Arcia well but do not recognize him as the exceptional defender that Counsell sees on the field. Arcia ranks third among NL shortstops in defensive runs saved (plus-3) and sixth in ultimate zone rating (plus-1.9), according to FanGraphs.
"Orlando makes difficult plays look easier, I think, and I think that confuses even the people doing defensive statistics," Counsell said, "because defensive statistics are still subjective. They are graded out by somebody doing it."
"I think [Arcia] plays on his feet a lot. You'll see other shortstops, they dive a lot. He makes plays on his feet, which to me is a sign of skill. So I think he makes a lot of stuff look easier than it is."
Arcia is not a finished product. Counsell and Brewers first-base coach Carlos Subero are still adding to the 22-year-old's defensive repertoire.
"All of the great defensive players have beautiful instincts," Counsell said. "That's the foundation of a great defensive player, and Orlando has that. Now you add the positioning details, the pitch-to-pitch details or understanding hitters, understanding our pitchers and how the ball is going to be hit. Adding that anticipation to his instincts, that's the finishing piece for him."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.