In one of the most compelling World Baseball Classic highlights we've seen, the 31-year-old center fielder from Morse High School in San Diego raced across the Petco Park outfield, and almost into the arms of dozens of fans beyond the center-field fence. He soared higher and higher, farther and farther, and finally the beautiful white baseball was in his glove.
Jones had robbed his Orioles teammate, Manny Machado, of a seventh-inning home run and helped Team USA beat the Dominican Republic, 6-3. Jim Leyland's U.S. team rolls on to Dodger Stadium for a Tuesday night semifinal against Japan, while the proud defending champs return to their camps in Arizona and Florida to prepare for Opening Day.
No one who was in the crowd of 43,002 or watching on MLB Network is going to forget this play any time soon. It was a catch that put the Classic in World Baseball Classic, a signature moment with the kind of star power and imagery that transcends. Every person in the shot told the story. It was perfect. There was no fan interference. Just pure athleticism by a hometown giant in front of a patriotic, flag-waving, America-loving crowd in San Diego.
USA against the defending champs in a won-or-done game. If you don't think the WBC matters, try telling that to the sellout crowd, to social media, and especially to the players on both sides. This moment was magical. This was magical. Bring on the Hollywood ending in Los Angeles. We have a blockbuster on our hands.
After the catch was made, with the crowd thundering its approval, there were snapshots that told the story.
Machado tipping his cap. The fan on the left soaking it in as it happened, appreciating it in slow motion. Another, behind Machado, with his mouth formed in a perfect circle, disbelieving the play even as it happened before his wide eyes. Flags waving. Some of the best players in the world reacting with the innocent joy of Little Leaguers.
Worth a thousand words. You bet your caps.
Leyland has seen things. He said afterward the only catch he could remember that compared to it was one that the Braves' Otis Nixon made against his Pirates. This was 25 years ago and the sight of Nixon climbing the wall to rob Andy Van Slyke of a home run and preserve a 13-game winning streak for his rivals is still fresh in his mind.
Twenty-five years from now, Machado's going to know the feeling.
"A lot of times it's not where you make the play, it's when you make the play," Leyland said. "That just took a little wind out of their sails. I think they thought there was one on the board, obviously."
Jones didn't really believe he could catch up to the drive that came on a 2-1, 91-mph fastball from Yankees reliever Tyler Clippard. But if there was a way to get there, he was going to get there.
"I'm still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball," Jones said. "I mean, off the bat I'm just like this ball's hit really far, so just keep going, keep going. You know this California air's going to slow it down, and just never quit. That's just the style I play with. I don't mind running into a wall or two."
According to Statcast™, the ball left Machado's bat with an exit velocity of 106.2 mph and a launch angle of 26 degrees. According to Hit Probability, a new Statcast™ metric, that exit velo-launch angle combo leads to a hit 95 percent of the time, just not this time.
Not only is it a hit 95 percent of the time, it's a home run almost as often. Batted balls with those exact specifications have left the yard more than nine out of 10 times in the Statcast™ era (beginning in 2015).
The ball Adam Jones just caught is a HR 94% of the time. 106 MPH at a 26 degree launch angle. Wow amazing.
Statcast™ also tells us that Jones played as shallow as any regular center fielder last season, starting out an average of 307 feet deep (tied with Andrew McCutchen for shallowest). But with the US leading 4-2 and Machado batting, Jones was 321 feet from the plate. That 14-foot difference over his '16 average made a big difference.
Robinson Cano, the next hitter for Tony Pena's Dominican team, blasted a homer that was just beyond the reach of left fielder Christian Yelich. Had Jones not soared through the air like a superhero coming to the rescue, maybe Machado would be heading to Dodger Stadium while Jones returned to Orioles camp in Sarasota, Fla.
But the Dominican Republic had its fun a week earlier, recovering from a 5-0 deficit to win 7-5 on Nelson Cruz's homer at Marlins Park in Miami. This night it was American flags waving at the end of one of the greatest games ever played in March.
Jones stole a home run from his teammate, and in the process kept Team USA rolling toward the WBC '17 title it covets.
The World Baseball Classic runs through Wednesday. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.