Kiermaier robs Machado with leaping grab
Center fielder wows with highlight-reel catch, recreating Trout's great play
BALTIMORE -- Kevin Kiermaier turned a negative into a positive from the leadoff spot for the Rays in Monday night's 6-3 win over the Orioles.
Only the Rays' center fielder did not hit first in the order. Instead, he led off the night for the Rays' defense by stealing a would-be home run from Manny Machado, who led off the bottom of the first for the Orioles by hitting a drive deep to center field.
Kiermaier charged for the wall, leaped -- getting his arm high above the wall -- and snared what would have been Machado's 27th home run of the season. The ball had an exit velocity of 101.7 mph, and Kiermaier reached a top speed of 15.17 mph, had a route efficieny of 95.103 percent and traveled 62.873 feet, according to Statcast™ data.
The catch was reminiscent of one made by Mike Trout on June 27, 2012, when the Angels' star center fielder sprinted back to virtually the same spot and leapt high over the wall to rob another Orioles shortstop, J.J. Hardy, of a home run. The catches were nearly identical; only the defender's uniforms and the advertising on the right-center-field wall have changed.
"I would say that's truly stealing a home run from someone with a great play," Rays outfield coach Rocco Baldelli said. "You know, that ball was hit low, on a line, backspun and was well out of the park. It's a really tough play. First of all, it just is. Second of all, Kevin is still trying to get to the wall before he even had a chance to leap for the ball. It's not like he was standing at the wall preparing for that. It was just a great athletic play and kind of a one-of-a-kind experience."
"Oh man, that's just the icing on the cake," Machado said. "That's just how things are going around here, but hey, he made a nice play there. You have to tip your cap off."
Unfortunately, Kiermaier's catch came at a cost, as he suffered a mild right ankle sprain on the catch and exited the game. He said he is day to day but did not rule out playing Tuesday.
"What K.K. does in the outfield changes the entire complexion of the game," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "That's why he has the respect that he does around the league. I was very, very happy that he made the play. Because you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know how the game is going to play out with a one-run lead with no outs in the first inning."
Kiermaier has been a human highlight reel ever since arriving to the Rays for good in 2014. He allowed that he "really" did think Monday night's catch was his best.
"You know Machado put a good swing on a slider by Arch, and I really didn't think he hit it as good as he did," Kiermaier said. "But the ball carried a little bit, and I just felt myself going back. I knew I had a couple of steps on the warning track, so thankfully I timed my jump good enough and came down with the catch. It's always fun to make a play like that.
" ... Thankfully that ball was hit at the perfect place for me to catch it at the right time. And I always say anytime I have that chance, I want to make that play, and tonight I had that chance and I took advantage of it."
Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters before the game that Kiermaier was the best center fielder in baseball and that nobody else was even close. He called Monday night's play the best he's seen.
"When the ball was hit off the bat, I was pretty confident it was a home run," Cash said. "Just knowing how it plays here. I knew he hit it on a line. And for K.K. to come out of nowhere, it was just incredible. ... The height is what really impressed us in the dugout."
Baldelli served as a special advisor in the organization prior to becoming the first base/outfield coach, which allowed him to see Kiermaier play in the Minor Leagues. That experience prompted him several years ago to call Kiermaier the best outfielder in baseball -- and he wasn't even in the Major Leagues yet.
"Nothing that he really does is surprising," Baldelli said. "So when you see something like that, you just kind of nod your head and just enjoy the view, because you know if you watch him play for a certain amount of time, you're going to see things like that."