Hopefully you were watching the Astros-Rays game last night. If life interrupted and you didn’t get a chance to see it, however, know that you missed one of the best defensive plays that’s come down the pike in some time.
It wasn’t some individual act of superhuman defense. It wasn’t an Ozzie Smith-style act of wizardry or a Jim Edmonds-style lay-out catch. It was just perfect — and I mean 100% perfect — fundamentally sound team defense. Defense that would make Tom Emanski and Fred McGriff sit up from their recliners, look at each other and say “damn, that’s some nifty friggin’ defense.”
Not that I know if those two hang out or anything. Anyway.
The play came with the Rays up 3-0 with one out in the top of the fourth inning. José Altuve was on first. Big hitter Yordan Álvarez was at the plate and he tattooed one to dead center, that hit just in front of the base of the wall. Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier played the carom cleanly, fired it to shortstop Willy Adames who, in turn, fired it to catcher Travis d'Arnaud who executed a perfect tag to nail Altuve at the plate.
That may sound moderately routine, but the speed and precision it took from all three Rays defenders to nail Altuve — who was racing the whole way — was astounding to watch in real time:
If any part of that relay is executed any less than perfectly, Altuve is safe and the Astros are in business in a close game. Instead we got the Platonic ideal of a relay play. The kind of play that, if the Rays somehow get past Gerrit Cole on Thursday and mount a deep playoff run, we’ll likely see as one of the signature moments of the season.