Joc's remarkable catch the stuff of legend
Dodgers center fielder went all out for jaw-dropping game-saver
SAN DIEGO -- Now and then, like a thunderbolt from a quiet sky, a play is made that instantly transcends the game and becomes the stuff of legend. It is so out of this world, so stunningly surreal, that it is sure to be remembered long after the game's outcome.
Such a play was produced on Sunday at Petco Park by Joc Pederson in a 4-2 Dodgers victory in 12 innings, turning a thrilling three-game series in Los Angeles' favor. What the rookie sensation did in the ninth inning -- running smack into the center-field wall to take a certain game-winning hit away from Justin Upton and the Padres, with two out and two on -- set a new standard this season in terms of astonishment and magnificence.
It required instincts, timing, speed, rare skill and something else. It took guts. With no time to think about it, Pederson was risking serious injury in pursuit of a game-saving out. He knew the wall was there, and he had no way to avoid it.
"I tried to make a play," Pederson said. "It was a huge momentum [shift] for our team. It kept us going. A lot of guys stepped up."
His efforts to undersell it were about as implausible as the catch was as the ball left Upton's bat.
"I think the situation makes it bigger than it was," Pederson added.
No, the situation only enhances it, giving it even more impact.
Nobody in the ballpark was more shocked than the victim. Upton had won a game the night before with a home run to the same general area, and he thought he'd done it again.
Rounding first base, sure he was about to be swarmed by teammates in the familiar routine of walk-off triumphs, Upton put his hands on his knees and stared at Pederson as Joc was making sure his anatomy remained intact.
"I was watching [Upton]," Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "He couldn't believe what happened. He just looked out at Joc. You remember those moments -- this one and the one where he robbed a home run against Arizona. I've seen some great plays in center field -- remember, I played with Mr. [Torii] Hunter with the Angels -- but this was special.
"Joc wasn't worried about anything but catching it. He saw the ball go up and went and got it. As a teammate, you respect that. He made a play and saved us. And he'll make a lot more great plays. He's going to get even better."
Like the incomparable Willie Mays, the eternal gold standard for center fielders, Pederson has the knack of anticipating where a ball is going to land and turning and sprinting to that location. It is something his father taught him when he was a kid, Joc said.
"That play on Justin -- just incredible," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "This is a big ol' yard. That ball got small quick, but I still thought it had a shot to stay in the yard and he had a shot to catch it.
"It's the way he turned that puts you in the right angle. He's one of the few guys these days that will turn and run. He gets an area and looks for it. It allows him to cover more ground."
After the initial awe inspired by the catch, the reasoned reaction was that it was a good thing Major League Baseball decided in its evolution to pad the outfield walls.
Back in the day, Pederson would have been on his way to a nearby hospital for tests and observation after making a catch of this nature. One of the game's greatest talents of the 1940s, Pete Reiser of the Brooklyn Dodgers, never fulfilled his destiny because of his penchant for crashing into walls and busting up his body.
Almost as remarkable as the catch was the fact it was the fourth high-quality play Pederson made in the game. He stole extra bases from Matt Kemp in the first inning behind Mike Bolsinger and came to the starter's aid again in the fifth, robbing Alexi Amarista with another running stab. This preceded three two-out hits, including Upton's two-run single, that gave James Shields a 2-0 lead.
Pederson's third superb play came when he ran down Yonder Alonso's line drive leading off the eighth inning after the Dodgers had drawn even with runs in the seventh and eighth.
In the grand scheme, there likely never will be a catch to match the one Mays made in the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds in New York, stealing extra bases from Vic Wertz with an over-the-shoulder stab with his back to home plate. The park was as big as Yellowstone, and Mays seemingly ran forever to get there and glove it.
Pederson, running full tilt off the crack of the bat, made it to the spot about 40 feet from the 396 sign in right-center and met the wall leading with his head.
"The wall," the Twins' Hunter, a nine-time Gold Glove center fielder, likes to say, "is undefeated." Pederson at least earned a draw. He somehow wasn't knocked out -- and neither was his team.