While I like watching tape-measuring home runs as much as the next guy, nothin’ gets me goin’ quite like a nice web gem. It’s mindboggling how big leaguers can make some defensive plays look so easy, meanwhile anyone watching who’s played baseball knows just how tough it is to make some of these outs. Some of the Blue Jays’ wins this season came down to one crucial defensive play. And so did some losses, though we aren’t gonna bring those up here.
Defense is so crucial in this sport because the margin of error is slim to none. The accuracy needed to make a properly timed leaping grab, or a throw across the diamond with enough juice to get out the runner, is everything. Either everything falls into place and you get out, or a runner gets to first safely. Or worse. We tend to think that a player is good or bad simply because of their bat, but we can’t sleep on how important a good defender is to their ballclub.
This Friday Five counts down the best defensive plays from this past Blue Jays season, and this was handsdown the toughest list to put together. There were so many great web gems that it was nearly impossible to narrow them down. It meant some of our best defenders, like Marcus Semien and that kid who called his shot catching Bichette’s home run in Dunedin, to be left off the list. But there’s no shortage of incredible plays on here.
#5: Steven Matz kick save and a beauty, August 27
— MLB (@MLB) August 28, 2021
Seeing a ball coming back to the pitcher’s mound always makes you hold your breath. Not only because you don’t want the pitcher to get drilled in the head, but more importantly because you never really know what type of play they’ll make on the ball. Pitchers aren’t on the field for their glove, and some are better at fielding balls hit to them than others. Sometimes, they just get lucky when it comes to comebackers, and that’s what happened with Steven Matz in Detroit. The ball hits off his foot (ouch) and deflects right between first and second, where Vladdy reacts perfectly to play it on his right side and deliver a slick cross-body flip over to Matz to get the tag on just in time. A classic 1-3-1 putout.
Vladdy really impressed me in his first full season at his new position. This isn’t a play that first basemen are making everyday, and he does a great job barehanding it and firing it to Matz as fast as possible to get the runner, delivering that toss submarine-style like Adam Cimber in the eighth inning. He looked like a seasoned vet over at first with his scoops, snags, and leaping grabs that make him look like the logo of his cleats sponsor. Vladdy could seriously be a Gold Glove nominee.
#4: Bo BICHETTe walks it off with a slick sliding stop, April 13
The game doesn’t end right here if Bo and Vladdy don’t both execute incredible plays on their ends. This slide and throw from Bichette is one of the sexiest things you’ll see on a diamond. It’s smoother than cream cheese on a bagel. But it wouldn’t have mattered if he doesn’t transfer this ball lightning-quick from his glove to his throwing hand to fire a bullet over to first. And what does Vladdy Jr. do? He does the splits like he’s Simone Biles on the beam, if Simone Biles was 6’2 and 250 pounds. Just an incredible stretch that makes all the difference from the kid who came through the minors as a third baseman. If this had been at the Rogers Centre in front of fans, the barn would have been rockin’ seeing this play to end the game.
#3: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a cannon from left to get TWO, May 7
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has a CANNON 😳
— FanDuel (@FanDuel) May 8, 2021
You had to know that an outfield assist from the pineappled-headed man was gonna make this countdown. Gurriel Jr. has to have one of the best arms among everyday left fielders, and it’s because he has such a laser for a limb that he was able to transition so smoothly to the outfield.
There were a lot of great throws to get a guy out at home from Lourdes this season, but this one’s my favourite. He leaps up to make the grab, and with a runner tagging from third La Piña makes a flat-footed throw home that gets there without a bounce to complete the double play. Not only is it wild that he makes this throw without any extra momentum behind him— the crow-hop is an outfielder’s best friend—but he’s able to gun out Astros’ Myles Straw at the plate who’s one of the fastest guys in the Majors. Runners should know better than to test Gurriel Jr.’s rocket arm.
#2: Santiago Espinal sends the fans home barehanded, July 30
HANDS DOWN, the BEST way to end a game!
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) July 31, 2021
Watching a barehanded catch will never get old. It’s just such a tough damn play that almost never happens because the circumstances don’t usually come about. But when they do, it’s one of the most impressive things you’ll see on a ball diamond. Barehanded catches are so rare that MLB has a Youtube video compiling them, and it’s not even a minute and a half long. Remember when Freddy Galvis had one when he was on the Blue Jays in 2019? Unreal.
This play from Espinal was one of the craziest moments I’ve ever experienced at a baseball game. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth, in a one-run game, and Espinal ended the game on that snag. He was playing super shallow to protect the bunt, and makes a perfect turn to track the ball which brings him all the way to the edge of the outfield grass.
Not only did it end the game, but it ended the FIRST Jays game back at the Rogers Centre. I, like everyone else there, lost my mind when this play happened. Just an insane way to walkoff the night for this team back in front of their home crowd for the first time in two seasons. The energy in the building was through the roof when Espinal made this play.
#1: What Else did you expect? George Springer with the catch of the year, July 24
This is about as impressive a catch as you'll ever see. Even many fans who were booing George Springer just a few minutes ago had to applaud that one. My goodness. Brandon Nimmo was robbed. pic.twitter.com/hd2bUXbdsl
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) July 25, 2021
If you think baseball is easy, watch this catch from George Springer and give your head a good shake.
Springer covers 79 feet of ground in 4.6 seconds to make this play, timing his dive perfectly with full extension as he lays out with reckless abandon for this ball. Just an unreal play that robs the New York Mets’ hitter of extra bases and solidified Springer’s claim as one of the best centerfielders in all of baseball.
This diving grab won MLB’s Play of the Week and it might have just been the best defensive play of the entire season.