MIAMI – A day later and more than 1,000 miles south in Miami, Braves players and manager Brian Snitker were still being asked about The Catch. Or, as it quickly became known on social media, #GameEnder.
And there wasn’t a person in the visitor’s clubhouse at Miami on Thursday that was tired of talking about center fielder Ender Inciarte’s spectacular, leaping catch at the wall at Citi Field with two out in the ninth inning, robbing the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes of a would-be game-ending homer for a 4-3 Braves win to complete a three-game road sweep.
Inciarte raced 104 feet from center field to the right-center wall at 19.2 miles per hour, according to MLB’s Statcast. At the last moment he leaped, throwing his right arm in front of his face to catch the ball with his glove above the fence, then pull the ball back as he came down in one smooth, impossibly athletic maneuver.
“I didn’t even think he was going to have a chance to get that ball, because it looked like it came off his bat pretty good,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. All of a sudden you look back and you see him on a dead bead to center field and then he catches it, and you can’t tell if it went over or not.”
A crowd of more than 32,000 at Citi Field fell nearly silent for a second or two, uncertain whether Inciarte had caught it, until he showed the ball as he began his trot back toward the dugout, where teammates had already begun leaping over steps and railings as they darted joyously onto the field to celebrate with Inciarte and the rest of Atlanta’s fielders.
“Usually when a guy robs someone they jump (in celebration) right away,” Freeman said, “but he kind of caught it and took a couple of steps (before he showed the ball) and I was like, Oh, my God. It’s one of those situations, you replay it over and over again in your head and, I mean, it’s the most incredible thing. Probably the best catch I’ve ever seen, really. Because it was as a situation for us to win the game.”
Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said, “I texted somebody and said you would’ve thought we won the World Series. It couldn’t have been any more exhuberant or heartfelt or anything in that situation. I said, too, if that doesn’t win him a Gold Glove, I don’t know what will.”
The play has been shown endlessly on sports highlight shows since Wednesday night and was the No. 1 play of the day on ESPN SportsCenter.
In addition to the high visibility of that and several other Inciarte plays this season, including the best deke play in years that fooled the Phillies’ Carlos Ruiz and allowed Inciarte to easily double him up at first base, his Gold Glove candidacy is also buoyed by Inciarte’s outstanding defensive statistics, in both conventional stats such as outfield assists and advanced metric stats including Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and defensive WAR.
Although offensive statistics aren’t supposed to figure into the voting component for Gold Gloves, the fact of the matter is that it often does. Some voters just can’t separate offense and defense and will usually go with the better hitter if they view a couple of players as fairly similar defensively.
And so, that’s another reason to believe Inciarte is a good bet to win his first Gold Glove this year: His offense has been solid since early June and terrific since the All-Star break. He had his overall average up to .294 and his on-base percentage at .352 before Thursday, and since the All-Star break Inciarte led the majors in hits (92) while batting a blistering .352 with 19 extra-base hits, a .404 OBP and .452 slugging percentage.
His performance in the leadoff spot has been a spark for a Braves offense that’s been hitting on all cylinders.
“Getting hurt in the first week of the season, it’s tough,” Freeman said, referring to a hamstring injury Inciarte sustained in the third game of the season, which forced him to the disabled list for a month. “I obviously know coming back from injury, it’s hard to get the feel going again. He came back and you could see him start to get it back just before the All-Star break, and then once the All-Star break came, it’s been an absolutely joy to watch him.
“It’s been fun for all of us behind him because he’s always on base and you know you can just drive him in. And the way he’s been doing in the box and in center field has been otherworldly. Stuff you haven’t seen before, the way he’s been getting on base and the defense – I hadn’t seen that before.”
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