DENVER — Manny Machado, one of the best third basemen of his generation, has racked up a lifetime’s worth of defensive highlights.
But the catch he made in the eighth inning of the Padres’ 3-2 victory on Saturday afternoon at Coors Field? Machado may have outdone himself this time.
The Padres were clinging to a one-run lead, and the Rockies had put the tying run at third base with one out. Pinch-hitter Mike Moustakas lofted a foul pop down the left-field line. Machado ranged toward the wall, slid on the dirt, then began juggling the baseball — first off his glove, then again off his glove and onto his face, then off the underside of the bill of his hat and, finally, to his bare hand.
“Caught it,” Machado said with a smirk. “I have no idea what the hell happened, honestly. It hit me somewhere, I don’t know where. My nose was hurting. My lip was hurting. I’m glad the run didn’t score.”
Really, that last part is key. Machado’s catch was ridiculous enough. On top of that, he had the wherewithal to make a pinpoint throw back into the infield, keeping Ezequiel Tovar from scoring.
“That’s not something you can practice,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “That’s just instincts. And desire to catch a ball that at the time was going to be a huge out.”
Ultimately, Tovar’s run was the Rockies’ best chance to tie the game. In hindsight, it’s worth wondering whether he should’ve taken a risk and tagged. Per the rule book, Tovar could’ve left the bag the moment the ball first touched Machado’s glove. But the Rockies’ rookie later acknowledged not knowing that rule. Given Machado’s immaculate throw, it’s unclear whether he would’ve scored, anyway.
“I think it probably would’ve been close,” Tovar said. “I think I probably would’ve made it if I went, I don’t know. … Any time you lose, it’s frustrating. But you’ve also got to give credit to Machado on that play — he got that ball back in, he made a heck of a play.”
Hard to fault Tovar on a one-in-a-million type play. As Machado ranged into foul ground, the Padres’ third baseman considered the possibility of letting the ball drop. But at the last moment, he decided the out was too valuable. Plus, he thought he was close enough to make a throw to the plate.
“Ultimately, you’ve just got to take a gamble and just try to catch it and keep that guy there,” Machado said. “… I mean, once you make that decision, you’ve got to go for it. Running down there, it’s just, ‘Do I catch it? Do I not? Is it deep enough?’”
Said Melvin: “That’s understanding the enormity of the play and what could potentially happen. It’s just a lot of good things happening on one play. You can’t teach that.”
All-around, it was an excellent day for Machado. He finished 3-for-5 and played a strong third base, even outside of the catch. He also capitalized on a mental blunder from Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland in the top of the first inning.
Machado was on first base when he noticed Freeland working out of the windup. He immediately took off for second base, and when Gary Sánchez dunked a single into shallow left-center, Machado turned on the jets and scored all the way from first base.
“Look, he knows how to play baseball all the way around,” Melvin said.
It wasn’t traditional. But the Padres fashioned five innings of two-run ball at Coors Field out of a Weathers/Carlton piggyback, each allowing a run apiece. They’ll take that.
“It really gave them a bunch of different looks from a left-hander and a right-hander for sure,” catcher Austin Nola said.
The Padres grabbed the lead in the top of the sixth on Fernando Tatis Jr.‘s two-run single. From there, the bullpen was outstanding, holding the Rockies scoreless over the final four frames.
With a little help from Machado’s catch.
“Not just catch,” Nola said. “Bobbled it like four times and then caught it? And then he had the thought to, as soon as he caught it, immediately throw it in.
“That was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.”