Was this catch the biggest play of all?

October 19th, 2020

Build a list of the enduring images of the National League Championship Series. At the top is probably a snapshot of Cody Bellinger, paused at home plate late Sunday evening in Game 7, watching his go-ahead home run take flight.

The next three memories may well be, as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it, “Mookie making web gems every single night.”

In Game 5: reaching down to snare a ball before it could hit the grass. In Game 6: Betts screaming with emotion after taking a run-scoring hit away from the Braves. In Game 7: Betts silhouetted against the right-field fence, his glove extended over it to rob Freddie Freeman of a homer, keeping the Dodgers within one and setting the stage for an epic comeback.

With those three plays, Betts prevented at least three runs in the NLCS, and he gave the Dodgers some momentum in their 4-3, pennant-clinching win over the Braves in Game 7 at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

“This guy’s one of the best players in the game,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s so darned athletic with the things he can do.”

In terms of the sheer athleticism required, it would be difficult to rank one of Betts’ catches over any of the others. A four-time Gold Glove Award winner who led all NL right fielders in defensive runs saved this season, Betts often makes freakish plays look ordinary. And yet his Game 7 catch was anything but routine, on a ball that would have been a homer in nine big league ballparks, according to Statcast.

When Freeman hit Blake Treinen’s pitch, Betts initially appeared to have trouble tracking the baseball as it flew 360 feet to right. But he eventually found it and sprinted toward the wall, timing his leap expertly to reel it in.

“Another spark,” was how teammate Corey Seager described the moment.

The effort evoked Betts’ run-saving catch in Game 6, when he leaped to rob Marcell Ozuna of a potential RBI double in a similar part of the park. Betts also turned a shoestring catch into a run-saving double play in Game 5, when Ozuna was doubled off after he broke for home plate early attempting to turn it into a sacrifice fly.

Asked which was his favorite, Betts responded: “I think the home run robbery, because that was actually a home run. The other ones were going to stay in the park, but I think it’s more fun when they were going to go over the wall.”

But Betts also gave points to his Game 6 grab, because it prevented the tying run from scoring. That one certainly elicited the most emotion from Betts, who screamed and strutted as he ran in from the warning track.

There are no wrong answers here. Although Betts did not make any game-breaking offensive plays in the NLCS, batting .269 overall with four runs scored, a double, an RBI and a stolen base, he still proved one of Los Angeles’ most valuable players because of his glove.

When asked a second time about his three catches, Betts -- who led the Major Leagues in Baseball Reference’s version of WAR this season -- paused for a moment before reiterating that the home run robbery was probably his favorite.

Imagine having the option to choose. Most players, even elite defenders, dream of making one game-changing postseason catch in their careers. Betts made three in three days, and the Dodgers are heading to the World Series in large part because of it.

“He’s just a crazy talent,” Snitker said. “I have the utmost respect for him.”