SAN FRANCISCO -- Ultimately, it only delayed the result -- a 6-5 San Francisco win in 13 innings to force another game in this National League Division Series. But a ninth-inning catch by Cubs rookie Albert Almora Jr. did extend Game 3 into extra innings and offered, on a national stage, a
SAN FRANCISCO -- Ultimately, it only delayed the result -- a 6-5 San Francisco win in 13 innings to force another game in this National League Division Series. But a ninth-inning catch by Cubs rookie Albert Almora Jr. did extend Game 3 into extra innings and offered, on a national stage, a glimpse at why so many believe he'll be a more permanent fixture in Chicago's outfield quite soon.
After coming inches short of making a diving catch on Conor Gillaspie's go-ahead RBI triple in the eighth, Almora provided the defensive highlight of the night with a sliding catch to rob Buster Posey of what would have been a game-winning hit in the ninth. Almora turned the catch into an inning-ending double play, too, as Brandon Belt had committed himself to scoring from first when the line drive left Posey's bat.
The Cubs still lead the best-of-five series, 2-1. The NLDS resumes with Game 4 on Tuesday night at AT&T Park, live on FS1 at 8:30 ET/7:30 CT.
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"Highlight of my career so far," Almora said after what was his postseason debut. "As soon as he hit the ball, I knew if I didn't catch that, the game would be over. I was just trying to go as hard and as far as I could go and make that play for the team."
According to Statcast™, Almora covered 57.6 feet in 3.74 seconds to make the grab. Only once during the regular season did Almora covered more ground to catch a fly ball with a hang time of less than four seconds. Balls hit with the same exit velocity (104 mph) and launch angle (19) as Posey's drop for a hit 72.6 percent of the time.
"That was," teammate Kris Bryant remarked afterward, "one of the best catches I've seen."
Had Almora tracked down Gillaspie's line drive to right-center in the eighth inning, it would have been just as remarkable. As it was, Almora traveled 94 feet to try and snare a ball that, based on its exit velocity (103 mph) and launch angle (20 degrees), falls in for a hit at a 74 percent success rate. It landed 395 from home plate.
"I tried. I did everything I could, honestly," Almora said. "It was one of those things where it was to the furthest part of the ballpark. At the end, I thought I had a chance. I dove, but couldn't catch it."
The Giants went on to score three runs in the frame and take a short-lived, 5-3, lead. They later celebrated a walk-off win on another hit that eluded Almora, this one a line drive by Joe Panik off the right-field wall to score Brandon Crawford.
Yet while Almora found himself in the middle of several late-game plays, he never would have appeared in Monday's contest had things gone as scripted for manager Joe Maddon.
Maddon had wrestled with the decision to weaken his outfield defense by constructing a Game 3 lineup built to battle Madison Bumgarner. Once his club carried a lead into the seventh, Maddon fortified things in the field. That included inserting three-time Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward in to play right field.
Not until things started to go awry in the eighth inning did Maddon have to rework his plans. The move to bring closer Aroldis Chapman into the game early necessitated another double switch, this time with Almora replacing Heyward.
It was a swap that Maddon later described as "awkward" and "unusual," given Heyward's defensive credentials. But it was also one with which Maddon felt comfortable. And Almora later showed why.
You probably don't feel as good about making that move if you have to with somebody else going in the game," Maddon said. "But with Albert going in the game, I felt good about it."
Jenifer Langosch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007.