Give him a hand: Asdrubal wowing teammates
Sunday's barehanded play latest in shortstop's stellar season
CLEVELAND -- It was an impossible play. That would at least be the likely reaction if one were to attempt to describe the defensive trickery that Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera pulled off on Sunday afternoon.
Cabrera's wizardry, however, was captured on film. The video evidence is unquestionable proof that -- at least for one shortstop -- this particular play was indeed possible. Still, even upon multiple viewings, one might wonder if special effects were in play.
"It was unbelievable," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
Cabrera has been converting plenty of people into believers this season.
At the plate and in the field, Cabrera has been a consistent force for a young Cleveland club that has surprised baseball with its rise to the top of the American League Central standings. The shortstop has been the Tribe's best player to this point, and he might have a trip to the All-Star Game in his near future.
Such accolades will have to wait.
For now, everyone around the Indians is happy to still be in awe of what Cabrera did during Sunday's 5-2 win over the Pirates. With the game caught in a 2-2 deadlock in the 10th inning, Cabrera spun a web gem that will likely hold up as one of the best defensive plays in the 2011 season.
Cleveland reliever Joe Smith snapped off a 3-2 fastball with his signature sidearm delivery. The 90-mph heater met up with the bat of Pittsburgh's Brandon Wood, whose swing created a low line drive to Cabrera's right. The baseball took an awkward hop in front of the shortstop and appeared destined to land in left field.
That was until Cabrera snared the baseball with his right hand.
"I thought it was a hit off the bat," Smith said. "Then I saw him. When he barehanded it, I was just like, 'What are you doing?'"
Cabrera felt that approach was his only option.
When Wood made contact, Cabrera initially made a technical error with his footwork. That put him in a tough fielding position as the baseball bounced and shot past him. The glove was out. He had to use his bare hand.
"That was the only chance to get the ball," Cabrera said. "I never had a chance to get the ball with my glove. If I tried to catch the ball with my glove, that would've been a base hit."
So Cabrera said a prayer and reached back, grabbing the baseball behind him before taking two steps into the grass.
"I've never seen anything like that," said Adam Everett, a shortstop by trade and a veteran of 11 Major League seasons. "I've seen guys barehand a high chopper, but I've never seen anybody barehand a line-drive, in-between hop."
Cabrera was not finished.
The shortstop pivoted, jumped and threw across his body. The result was a rocket of a throw in the direction of first baseman Carlos Santana, who did not even see Cabrera make the barehanded grab. As Wood sprinted up the line, Santana caught the ball in the nick of time.
"I wasn't surprised," Santana said. "For me, that's just normal for him."
Wood was out.
The Indians went nuts.
"Oh my God," Acta said. "Half of the dugout was yelling, 'Best play ever!' Some guys were like, 'Slow down. We've seen some other ones -- Ozzie Smith and all that.'"
"I was like, 'Come on,'" Indians starter Justin Masterson said. "Everyone was going crazy. We reminded him that he did have a glove. That was incredible."
Orlando Cabrera heard the reaction from the indoor batting cage.
"The guys started screaming," he said. "I ran out to see the play."
On the mound, Smith could not contain a smile of disbelief. In left field, Michael Brantley began cracking up. At shortstop, Cabrera did all he could to hold back a smile, but he finally broke down and the slightest smirk crept across his face.
"Brantley, he started laughing," Cabrera said. "I started laughing, too. There was nothing I could do, man."
Immediately, a debate was born.
Was this even Cabrera's best play of the season?
On May 19 in Chicago, Cabrera used some sleight of hand to pull off another amazing play. In the eighth inning against the White Sox, former Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel chopped a pitch up the middle that bounced off Smith's glove. The deflected baseball shot to Cabrera's right.
In one swift move, Cabrera reached back, plucked the ball out of the air with his right hand, dropped to his knees, flipped it behind his back to Everett, who then turned a double play that had to be seen to believed. Even after being involved in that bit of wizardry, Everett said Sunday's play was more impressive.
"That's something you don't see every day," Everett said. "And not everybody can do that. He's a special talent, that's for sure. It was hit a little harder. It hadn't been slowing down. Then an off-balance throw, just the whole thing ... it was just an amazing play."
Acta agreed that Sunday's was the more amazing feat.
"That ball had some type of funky spin," said the manager. "It was kind of wet out there, and the fact that he was able to grip that was already passed him and turn around and throw a strike to first base? It was a great overall play."
Asked if he liked having Smith on the mound, Cabrera began to laugh.
"I like it, yeah," Cabrera said with a grin. "He's a sinker guy -- lots of ground balls."
After Sunday's play, Cabrera worded things a little differently.
"He came in the dugout and said, 'I love when you pitch,'" Smith said with a laugh. "I think he moves where he thinks the ball's not going to be."
While Cabrera was being interviewed, first baseman Matt LaPorta chimed in.
"He practices those plays," he said.
"I'll play around a little bit in batting practice," Cabrera said. "You never know when you can make that play, you know?"
Cabrera's teammates also joked with the shortstop about all the barehanded plays.
"You know they don't give out gold hand awards," Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano quipped. "They're called Gold Gloves."
Maybe Cabrera will take home one of those when it is all said and done.
Right now, the Indians are trying to do what they can to send the shortstop to the All-Star Game in Arizona, even starting a "Vote AC2AZ" campaign. Considering the season he is currently turning in, Cabrera certainly seems to be a worthy candidate.
"I don't want to think about that right now," Cabrera said. "I want to wait for that moment when they announce the team. That's it."
Through 70 games, Cabrera has hit .296 while leading Cleveland in home runs (12), doubles (18), RBIs (43), stolen bases (11), runs (45), hits (86) and total bases (146). He led American League shortstops in multiple offensive categories and was hitting .417 with runners in scoring position, entering Monday.
"He's been the best player we've had the whole year," Orlando Cabrera said.
Everett was not about to argue.
"I don't think you can put it into words," Everett said. "Obviously, he's the MVP of this team. In my opinion -- strictly my opinion -- he's the best shortstop in the American League. We'll just give the other guys the benefit of the doubt, and say he's in the top five in baseball.
"He's carried us. Everything is peaks and valleys in this game, but he's been our constant. You just can't really put that into words to somebody who doesn't know the game. Without him, we're not where we are."
Without Cabrera, Wood likely would have singled.