'An impossible catch!' This one needs to be seen to be believed

Mullins follows Superman grab with two-run homer in Orioles' series-opening win

April 16th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- “That’s a tough answer,” said, the 29-year-old center fielder pondering after being posed with this challenging question:

Was the catch Mullins made in the first inning of the Orioles’ 7-4 win over the Twins at Camden Yards on Monday night the best of his career? He has a deep highlight tape from his seven-year MLB tenure filled with sensational grabs at ballparks all over the country.

After a moment of consideration, Mullins gave it the same ranking as his O’s teammates.

“I’d give it 1,” Mullins said. “The fellas gave it 1. I’ll go right there with them.”

Time to break down Mullins’ latest defensive gem.

The Twins had a runner on third base in the opening frame when Kyle Farmer surely thought he had a two-out RBI extra-base knock after connecting with a 2-2 sinker from Baltimore left-hander Cole Irvin that was left out over the plate. The ball came off Farmer’s bat at an exit velocity of 101.6 mph, per Statcast, and appeared headed for the left-center-field gap.

Mullins had been shaded closer to right-center, but he got a great jump and ran at an average sprint speed of 28.3 feet per second and covered 70 feet. He then made an incredibly well-timed leap to complete the catch, with the ball landing in his glove while he was midair.

“It was a difficult catch. Diving away from the field is kind of new,” Mullins said. “The instincts take over there. The reads that I get during BP are what leads to that, taking it serious, making sure I’m getting good jumps on the ball just during BP. It’s the little things that matter.”

Irvin was quite appreciative of Mullins’ help. The Orioles’ starter raised both of his arms straight up -- leaving them there as he started to back off the field -- and flashed a huge smile while tipping his cap to his teammate. On the O's broadcast, MASN's Kevin Brown raved about Mullins making an "impossible catch."

It wasn’t the first (or even second) time Irvin was the beneficiary of a marvelous Mullins play. Last year, Mullins had a diving catch on July 2 and a homer-stealing grab on July 7 -- both games started by Irvin, and both times, it was Minnesota’s Byron Buxton who got robbed.

“It seems like every time we’re playing the Twins and I’m on the mound, he’s going to do something pretty cool,” said Irvin, who plans to buy Mullins a bottle of whiskey as a gift. “That might be one of the best plays I’ve ever had behind me in general. That was one of the coolest plays. Shoot, I don’t know if I’ll ever see a play like that while I’m pitching again.

“From the angle I had it, man, that was really cool. I didn’t think there was a chance he was going to catch it, and all of a sudden, there’s a glove and it’s in it. It’s an incredible play.”

Added Twins manager Rocco Baldelli: “I can’t tell you I thought he was making that play.”

O's manager Brandon Hyde ranks Mullins' catch on Monday just slightly behind his remarkable homer robbery last Aug. 13 in Seattle, where he preserved a one-run lead in the ninth and then swatted a game-winning home run in the 10th.

“This play -- I think [left fielder Austin] Hays said it felt like he was hovering over the ground for a while and he caught that ball behind him,” Hyde said. “Ced’s a Gold Glove center fielder, and he’s playing great defense for us so far again this year.”

He’s raking, too. Mullins hit one of three O’s homers on Monday, extending his hitting streak to seven games. He is 9-for-21 (.429) over that span, and he’s tied for the team lead with four home runs.

Mullins already has won MLB’s Electric Play of the Week once this season, and he could soon earn it again. He received the honor for his April 6 catch in Pittsburgh, where he extended the game with a run-saving grab to rob the Pirates’ Ke’Bryan Hayes in the 11th inning.

Mullins’ latest sensational catch -- which may end up being one of the best defensive plays of the 2024 season -- came while he was wearing No. 42 for Jackie Robinson Day. Fittingly enough, the opportunity time on Monday’s grab was 4.2 seconds, per Statcast.

“It’s about opportunity, I think that’s what it boils down to,” Mullins said of Robinson’s legacy. “At the end of the day, that’s what he fought for, and for guys and players like myself to be able to have this opportunity to play this game at the highest level. So it’s nothing that I take for granted.”