Deluca makes back-to-back fantastic catches as Dodgers take opener

July 22nd, 2023

ARLINGTON -- The Dodgers returned to Globe Life Field on Friday night for the first time since they won their first World Series title in 32 years, on Oct. 27, 2020.

They made some more good memories this time around.

“This place holds a special place in our hearts,” manager Dave Roberts said prior to his club’s 11-5 victory over the Rangers. “ … It’s good to be back.”

Fond memories are nice, but the Dodgers are trying to get back to the top of the mountain in 2023, to feel the unparalleled exhilaration of being champions which they once felt in this very place.

An avalanche of injuries, particularly to the pitching staff, has made that a challenge. So how has this team managed to reclaim its perch atop the National League West despite the adversity?

There are a few reasons, and one of them shined conspicuously bright on Friday night. Outfielder Jonny Deluca, the organization’s No. 19 prospect per MLB Pipeline, made two spectacular defensive plays in center field on back-to-back batters in the fifth inning to preserve a 4-4 tie.

With one out, Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras hit a drive off Dodgers starter to left-center field that was quickly headed for the gap. But Deluca sprinted over and made a full-extension diving grab to rob Taveras of at least two bases. According to Statcast, the play had a catch probability of 40 percent.

Deluca’s sprint speed was 29.4 feet per second (30 feet per second is considered elite) and he covered 73 feet in 4.1 seconds to make the outstanding play.

The very next batter, slugging second baseman Marcus Semien, belted a fastball that looked destined to clear the left-center-field wall. Deluca drifted back, leaped and robbed Semien just moments after stealing that extra-base hit from Taveras.

“The first one, I was very surprised I caught [it],” Deluca said. “I just ran as hard as I could, and then [gave it] a courtesy dive and it ended up going in my glove. I feel like the second one, I almost made it a little harder than it needed to be. … But it was fun. The play was pretty good.”

Modesty aside, both plays were pretty good. And they kept the game close for the Dodgers, who rode big frames from the seventh through ninth innings to take the series opener in the showdown of Western Division leaders.

“That’s what a championship team is made of,” said . “The starters aren’t typically the ones that carry us the whole way. They can only get us to a certain point, but it’s guys like Deluca, [James] Outman, [Miguel] Vargas when he was here, the young pitchers -- [Emmet] Sheehan and [Bobby] Miller -- those are the guys that can help put us over the top, and they’re helping us right now.”

Offensively, it was Betts and other veteran stars who delivered in the big moments. In the seventh, , who had three RBIs in the contest, drew a bases-loaded walk. Two batters later, Max Muncy beat out a potential double-play ground ball to bring in another run.

Will Smith came through in the eighth with a two-out, two-run double that was followed by a Martinez RBI single to make it 9-5. Betts put the finishing touches on the late offensive eruption with a two-run double in the ninth.

also had a big night, launching his 18th homer of the season -- a solo shot in the fifth -- to go along with a two-run double and a pair of walks.

Even with the prodigious production at the plate, though, it’s hard not to see Deluca’s web gems as a turning point.

“Right when we came in [after Deluca’s catches], the whole dugout was fired up,” Freeman said. “That was kind of a game-changer for us.”

It’s plays like the ones Deluca made on Friday night that are helping keep the Dodgers in prime position for another NL West title. But this group wants more than that, especially after the scenes in Texas on Friday evoked memories of past glory.

If the Dodgers are going to win it all this fall, it’s going to take more than the Betts and the Freemans. It’s going to take the Delucas and the Outmans, too.

Just ask Gonsolin, who remembers 2020 and wants that feeling again, and who also had a chance to appreciate the role a rookie center fielder played in getting them a small step closer Friday night.

“There were a lot of emotions with [coming back], good emotions,” Gonsolin said. “ … [I told Deluca] ‘Thank you. Whatever you need, I got you.’

“He said he wanted two steaks. I said, ‘Whatever you want.’”