TORONTO -- It looked like the Blue Jays’ return home to Toronto was following a perfect script, but third baseman Santiago Espinal found a way to spice up the ending with one of the best defensive plays you’ll see this season.
With two outs in the ninth inning of the Blue Jays' 6-4 win over the Royals, Jarrod Dyson sent an awkward flare over the head of Espinal, who was playing in. Espinal ranged back, glove still by his side, and just when it looked like the ball would drop in for a hit to put some pressure on the late lead, Espinal reached up and snatched the ball out of the air with his bare hand.
The sellout crowd of 13,446 fans erupted, one final roar after an emotional day that was 670 days in the making. From the pregame ceremonies to a game packed with highlights, Espinal’s flash of brilliance was the cherry on top.
“That was insane,” said Bo Bichette, who was just a few feet away, wide-eyed as Espinal made the grab. “Everything, the situation, the fact he used his hand and the fact he even thought to use his hand. It was crazy, but we’ve come to expect things like that from Santiago.”
Starter Ross Stripling has long been a fan of Espinal at third, calling him a “defensive wizard.”
Stripling was out of the game at that point and in the training room, where there were two televisions. One shows the live feed of the game, as it happens, while the other shows the broadcast feed, which is typically a few seconds behind. Stripling watched Espinal’s play live, but thought it might have been too good to be true. He flicked his eyes to the broadcast feed for the instant replay, and sure enough, Espinal really did it.
“I see the play and it kind of looks like he barehanded it,” Stripling explained. “I was like, ‘I don’t know, I think he might have just gone Julio Jones on that ball?’”
Espinal has been a surprise contributor for the Blue Jays this season, hitting .318 and playing his way into a more prominent role recently. His emergence allowed the Blue Jays to deal veteran infielder Joe Panik to the Marlins for Adam Cimber and Corey Dickerson, and in a lineup that needs more production from the bottom three, he’s continued to be an answer.
Plays like Friday’s gem will earn him plenty more opportunities, and won’t soon be forgotten by Blue Jays fans who were watching their first game at Rogers Centre in nearly two seasons.