Austin Jackson does not dive ... well, sometimes
This has become a truism as solid as any other about the young center fielder’s superb defensive game: rarely does it include aerobatics.
Austin Jackson will run gappers down in all corners of Comerica Park’s spacious center field. He’ll pull balls back over the fence. He’ll throw out an occasional runner.
But he does ... not ... dive.
“I haven’t dove too many times,” Jackson admitted. “I probably could count on one hand the number of times I’ve dove.”
That fistful of occurrences includes one more time, as Jackson made maybe the defensive highlight of the season with his horizontal-to-the-ground catch in the 10th inning of Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Blue Jays, robbing Anthony Gose of what appeared to be a no-doubt gapper.
“I was more surprised that he caught it, because I thought he had no chance. He was shaded so far to left-center. I mean, that ball was more right-center. I’ve seen him dive a couple of times, but you’re right, he never has to dive for anything, because he’s always catching up to it,” Alex Avila said. “But in the case where he needed to, he timed it perfectly.”
With the score tied 2-2 in the 10th inning, the Jays got a leadoff single from Jeff Mathis, and bunted him over into scoring position. Gose hit a rocket off Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel that took off in the direction of the auxiliary scoreboard, and Jackson appeared to be pulled in the wrong direction.
“I thought there was no chance. ... I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s in the gap,’” manager Jim Leyland said.
“I knew I had to get on my horses. I had him shaded over in the opposite field, and he was able to turn on it, and I knew I had to get on my horses a little bit,” Jackson admitted. “It was one of those situations where, if it drops, he was going to score, so it’s better to just attempt to make the catch, just leave your feet right there.”
Jackson sprinted nearly 30 yards to track it down, snaring the ball just above ground level. The ball would bounce as he impacted the turf, but never left his glove.
“All of the sudden, it was like a blur – he was there,” Leyland said.
“I thought off the bat, it was going to go in for a hit, and we were going to be down one,” Avila said. “And then he just kind of came out of nowhere into my frame of vision, and just made a heck of a catch.”
The best he’s made, though?
There are differing opinions.
“No,” Avila said without hesitation. “I mean, that was good, but he’s ran some down farther in the gaps. I’ve seen him make some better catches than that, but big catches in big moments, that’s really all that matters. You could make a catch like that when it’s 8-0, and nobody’s going to talk about it.”
His manager disagrees.
“That was, to me, he’s made some great ones since he’s been here. That’s one of the best ones I’ve ever seen him make,” Leyland said. “To me, that’s one of the best catches he’s made, probably because of the situation.”