By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For a mid-August interleague game, Tuesday night’s contest between the Red Sox and Phillies was a real humdinger.
(Apologies for that coarse language, but sometimes, there is no other choice!)
The game had a bit of everything. Great pitching. A couple of solo homers. An AL pitcher smoking a double. A pinch-hit game-winning homer in the eighth. A little drama in the ninth. All in a tidy two hours and 40 minutes. Excellent stuff. Considering it involved two teams that are currently in the postseason picture, it was an appropriate representation of a playoff-feel type of game. The Phillies and Red Sox have now played three times, with the final scores looking like this:
Boston 2, Philadelphia 1 (13 innings)
Philadelphia 3, Boston 1
Boston 2, Philadelphia 1
That’s the good stuff, baby. That’s the stuff right there.
Obviously in a game like Tuesday’s, the stellar pitching, the home runs and the Rick Porcello double are going to get all the attention. That’s generally how things work. But before it gets washed over and ignored, it’s worth taking a few seconds on Wednesday to admire the play that Sandy Leon made to end the game. It was rather exceptional.
Leon, who crushed a solo homer in the top of the third to break a scoreless tie, has received quite a bit of attention this year — and rightfully so. The Red Sox went on a 25-1 stretch with Leon as the starting catcher, and while that record is indicative of contributions from many players, it’s also not a coincidence. Leon’s been excellent behind the plate and has stepped up in a big way after Christian Vazquez went down with an injury. Catching just about every night in the brutal summer months is no easy task, but Leon has elevated his play behind the dish.
Last week, Leon got credit for making a really dynamite split-second decision on a swinging bunt up a third-base line. Leon tracked down the ball and in one motion scooped it up and applied a tag to the base runner trying to score. It was a display of Leon’s baseball IQ, which is not necessarily rare in a catcher but was nevertheless impressive.
But on Tuesday, it was more about Leon’s physical ability than anything else. After blocking a Craig Kimbrel breaking ball on a swinging strike three, Leon had to chase down the ball after it deflected roughly 15 feet toward the Boston dugout on the third-base line. Leon had to find it, chase it down, and then with all of his momentum going in the wrong direction, plant his leg and deliver a strike to Mitch Moreland, while still avoiding Asdrubal Cabrera in the base path.
Making this play was no cinch, and with the potential tying run concurrently making his way from second to third base, there was great risk involved. Anything but a perfect throw to first base would have almost certainly resulted in that tying run rounding third base and making his way home.
Needless to say (because we’re not deep in a story about the play Sandy Leon made), Leon was perfect. Craig Kimbrel got his 36th save, and the Red Sox eked out a narrow victory.
Check it out:
Considering it was the final out of an excellent game, it may have not gotten proper credit. But, well, that’s just a highly difficult play. And the throw was perrrrfect. It looked like it flew over Cabrera’s helmet by mere inches, only to drop down perfectly at shoulder height for Moreland. It’s one that the best catchers in baseball can make look easy, but it’s still one that warrants a little extra attention a day later.
It stands out, too, in contrast with a video of wild play that was making the rounds on the internet this week. That video showed a Single-A game between the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Burlington Bees, which ended in absolute chaos. See for yourself:
(Fun fact: David Ortiz ranks as the most prominent Timber Rattlers alum, in case you didn’t know.)
The play looked nearly identical to the one Leon had to make on Tuesday, though the Single-A catcher had a slightly longer distance to travel and to throw. But the Single-A catcher also made a Single-A catcher type of play, chucking the ball into right field, where the right fielder was completely asleep and was not in position to back up the throw. It was as wild a finish as you’ll ever see, and it was a reminder of how quickly things can go wrong on a play that only goes down in the book as “Strikeout, 2-3.”
The Red Sox avoided such mayhem on Tuesday in Philly, and they have their 86th win of the season to show for it.