Catch of the year candidate? Take a look

May 30th, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- There is not a much more punishing schedule in sports than the one the Blue Jays have just wrapped up.

Sixteen consecutive days of baseball, from one coast to the other, against the defending World Series champions and the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, through injuries aplenty and a sweeping illness that left everyone feeling a little queasy.

Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field in 11 innings put a bow on that stretch, one during which Toronto won just five games. While it would be easy to adopt a mood befitting their struggles, the Blue Jays continue to show fight in all the right places.

On Wednesday against the Rays, Jonathan Davis’ diving snag definitely fell in the category of things to feel good about. No, great.

“Most of the time when I’m out there, if the ball goes in the air, I’m going after it,” Davis said. “That was my initial thought -- go get it -- and when I looked back and saw I had a chance, I definitely was excited to be able to make the play.”

In the bottom of the first inning, the Rays had runners at first and second base and two outs when Avisail Garcia ripped a liner off Blue Jays starter Trent Thornton that streaked into the left-center field gap.

Davis -- the No. 30 prospect in the organization per MLB Pipeline -- got a bit of a slow first step and it appeared all but certain that Garcia’s poke would tie the game.

Except Davis hit the gas, extended every last inch he could muster and plucked the ball from the air during a last-chance Superman on the warning track before skidding to the wall.

No one was more surprised than Davis, who looked at left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in disbelief for a split second before letting loose a howl of victory as his fellow outfielder threw up his arms in celebration and Thornton waved an enthusiastic fist pump in Davis’ direction.

“That was one of the most unbelievable plays I’ve ever seen,” Thornton said. “To see him just flying through centre field, dive like Superman and catch that ball ... that was the most spectacular play I’ve ever seen, especially when I’ve been pitching.”

Davis covered 105 feet in 5.3 seconds to make the inning-ending snag, which had just a 35 percent catch probability per Statcast. He reached a speed of 28.3 feet/second, topping the Major League average of 27.5.

It also bears mentioning that instead of the Blue Jays turning their focus to Thursday’s much-needed day of rest, they came out firing against Rays starter Blake Snell. Toronto began its attack with Eric Sogard, who led off the game with a single. Next came Gurriel, who parked a two-run homer into the left-field seats, and Justin Smoak and Rowdy Tellez, who each connected for singles.

The offensive streak was a small one, but it was a lot more than most get against Snell, who entered the game with one run or fewer allowed in six starts this season. The early can-do attitude made it possible for Toronto to stick around late, forcing extra innings with a slew of solid appearances from the bullpen.

Daniel Hudson, Joe Biagini and Derek Law followed Thornton, combining for 4 1/3 scoreless frames and handing the ball to Justin Shafer for the 10th. Shafer wiggled out of a jam to escape the inning unscathed, then secured one out in the 11th before Willy Adames singled to deep center field to plate the game winner.

“The pitching gave us a chance,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We were in the game. We came back. We’re going to turn this team around. I’m proud of my pitching that gave us a chance and that we tied the game and made it into extra innings.

“Shafer did a good job; he gave us a chance. It was a well-played game. Of course, we had our chances, but we didn’t do it.”

While it ultimately wasn’t enough to end its brutal stretch on a high note, Toronto can at least rest assured it left everything on the field at the end of the journey.