Before Inciarte's catch, there was Nixon's

September 23rd, 2016

There is The Catch.
You know, THE CATCH.
No, I'm not referring to "The Catch" that features Mirelle Enos as private investigator Alice Vaughan on television. And yes, I'm familiar with The Catch down the stretch of the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982. That's when Joe Montana scrambled to his right, lifted a pass that appeared headed toward San Francisco Bay and saw a leaping Dwight Clark grab the ball with outstretched hands to push the 49ers into the Super Bowl.
I'm referring to The Catch that ranks among the most dramatic plays in the history of Major League Baseball. It happened on July 25, 1992, when Otis Nixon climbed the outfield wall at Atlanta-Fulton County Coliseum for the Braves to do more than just snatch away a home run from the Pirates' Andy Van Slyke to keep a long winning streak alive. Nixon created the gold standard for superlative catches along these lines. That applies to everybody, which means it definitely applies to players with tomahawks across their chests.
Which brings us to the unfathomable thing that did Wednesday night at Citi Field in New York against the Mets.
Think Flying Wallendas.
There were Inciarte's Braves, trying to protect a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and a couple of runners on base, and belted a shot high and deep toward right-center field to the delight of thousands cheering across Flushing and beyond. They had good reason for glee. No way anybody with flesh and blood would get to that ball, but Inciarte kept running for more than 100 feet to reach the fence. Without decelerating, he jumped and reached over the top of structure to turn Cespedes' three-run homer into a game-ending out.

Teammates, coaches and those among the Braves' support staff smothered Inciarte with hugs as he trotted from his spot in center field, and Braves manager Brian Snitker later told reporters, "I don't think you could have won the World Series and had a bigger explosion than that right there."
So this made sense: Although Inciarte was able to catch that ball, he barely was able to catch his breath in the aftermath. He told a Braves TV announcer, "I used to see plays like that from Andruw Jones. I decided to copy him right now."
Actually, Inciarte was imitating Nixon. Somewhat. Nobody will ever match Nixon's 24-year-old moment of yore. Well, not unless it happens in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series.
Speaking of 24 and the World Series, The Catch by Nixon ranks in the vicinity of Willie Mays running forever with only the legendary No. 24 on his back showing as he moved toward the deepest part of center field at the Polo Grounds during the 1954 Fall Classic. Mays eventually made an over-the-head catch that lives in highlight reels in black and white, but Nixon's feat is in living color.

Here's the background: The Braves were seeking a 13th consecutive victory during that blistering summer night, but with a one-run lead and a runner on base for the Pirates, a loss was nearly at hand for the home team. The left-handed-swinging Van Slyke ripped a drive that was headed over the 10-foot-high wall in right-center at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
Nixon was hired for such an occasion.  
When John Schuerholz took over as the Braves' general manager before the 1991 season, he inherited a franchise that spent much of the 1980s struggling on the field and in the standings. They lost 106 times in 1988, and they improved slightly to drop 97 games for each of the next two seasons. Schuerholz sought to improve the pitching and the defense. In addition to adding glove specialists Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard and Terry Pendleton in the infield, he improved center by exchanging several insignificant players to the Expos for Nixon.
The results came quickly. In 1991, Nixon set the Braves record for stolen bases in a season with 72, including a Major League-record tying six in a game. He also was the definitive leadoff hitter with a .297 batting average to help the franchise go from worst to first with a trip to the World Series.
Then came that July night the next season, when the Braves wished to show by the continuation of their winning streak that 1991 wasn't a fluke.
There's a drive
Deep to right-center field
Nixon goes as far as he can go …
Skip Caray screamed those words over the TV airwaves as he watched Nixon sprint from his spot in center, plant his left foot about halfway up the right-center-field wall on a dead sprint and rise toward the sky in a hurry. That's when he reached over the barrier with his back against it.
Yes, indeed, HE CAUGHT THE BALL!
So did Inciarte.