TORONTO — When Kevin Kiermaier saw the ball go up in the air, his first thought was: “Go get it.”
In the second inning of the Blue Jays’ 3-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, second baseman Andruw Monasterio hit a fly ball to deep right-center.
Kiermaier immediately took off and kept running while carrying the ball. As it hurtled toward the turf, Kiermaier finally made a play, Superman-style, in time to catch the ball before it hit the ground, ending the inning with a stunning grab.
“I don’t know if I have a shot or not, but closing speed is a beautiful thing,” Kiermaier said.
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Right fielder George Springer made the play, knowing he had Kiermaier behind him, and raised his arms in celebration when the ball landed in his teammate’s glove. Kiermaier, meanwhile, slid to the turf on impact, his arms outstretched. Then he sat down and leaned against the wall for a moment, trying to catch his breath.
On the mound, Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman raised his arms in the air before placing one above his head: the universal gesture for, “What did I witness?”
“He just has that mentality to go after it and get it,” Gausman said. “I told him after the game it looks like you don’t have a chance to get that from my position, and then he came out of nowhere and made the play. You love to see guys play like that And I respect Kevin a lot for that.
Watching from the infield, Matt Chapman wasn’t sure at first if Kiermaier would get there in time until, “I saw him close and anything close to him, I thought he got it.”
Meanwhile, standing in the dugout, Blue Jays manager John Schneider said his first reaction after seeing Kiermiaer take the ball was: “Holy s—.”
“We’ve seen him do stuff like that and go through walls and make throws, it’s just elite,” Schneider said. “He was proud of it. I thought he had no chance of catching the ball. We have the luxury of playing George a little bit against some hitters because we know we have Kev kind of overtop, but that’s as good as I’ve seen. He came in and said that he didn’t seem to get there. But it was amazing.”
Kiermaier, a three-time Gold Glove and Platinum Glove winner, is no stranger to making highlight-reel catches and part of the reason the Blue Jays signed him is his elite outfield defense. Just two months into his tenure with the Blue Jays, he’s already done quite a few here at Rogers Center, perhaps the most memorable of which was his home opener. His latest may be even better than that.
Kiermaier said he enjoys covering a lot of ground as well as robbing home runs. “I like to make plays any way it comes, but to cover ground like that and layout, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a head-first dive, I feel, so it’s good knowing that I can still do it,” Kiermaier said. “This whole time I said I wanted to age like a fine wine. As I got older, I wanted to get better and I got this defensively.
The probability of a Monasterio fly ball being caught is 15 percent, according to MLB. Kiermaier had to cover 92 feet in 4.7 seconds to make the catch. He covered 94 feet, while hitting a 30.4 feet per second sprint speed, which is almost as fast as baseball’s top speedsters. (Kansas City Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., who is considered one of the fastest runners in the game, has a sprint speed of 30.4.)
Kiermaier’s inning-ending catch halted all momentum for the Blue Jays in a game they needed to win to secure their second straight series victory. The club have now won four of their last six games.
Toronto’s lineup jumped on Brewers starter Freddy Peralta in the first inning. Bo Bichette hit a solo home run to center field. Later, Daulton Varsho singled and then Chapman drove in a two-run home run to right field to put the Blue Jays up 3-0.
On the mound, Gausman is especially sharp. Over 6 2/3 innings, the right-hander scattered five hits while walking two and striking out 11. Gausman’s velocity also picked up, even hitting 99 mph on his fastball. By the end of the game, he led the American League with 100 strikeouts and was the only pitcher in franchise history to reach that mark in the first 12 starts of a season.
In the ninth inning, Kiermaier had a chance to make an even better catch on a fly ball from Blue Jays first baseman Rowdy Tellez that was hit near the same spot as Monasterio in the second inning. But a brief moment of hesitation from the center fielder, who wasn’t sure if Springer would get it, saw him a beat too late and the ball bounced off his glove. Tellez reached third base for just his third career triple. He would come around to score on a double-play ball, but Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano got out of the jam, ending the game with a strikeout for his 13th save.
“He was probably upset that he didn’t get Rowdy the ball in the ninth,” Schneider said of Kiermaier.
While the Blue Jays have shown inconsistency in some elements of their game during the first two months, their outfield defense has been a consistent strength. No team’s outfield is worth more than the Blue Jays’ 19 Defensive Runs, per Sports Info Solutions. And Kiermaier leads the way with 10 DRS, first among all center fielders.
The Blue Jays outfielders told the pitching staff to attack the hitters and not be afraid to have balls put in play because, as Kiermaier said, “they have to hit it somewhere we don’t and with our outfielders, we’re all able to make plays.” And knowing how well Gausman handles the mound, Kiermaier is more than happy to play strong defense behind him.
“Kevin was just helping Kevin,” he said. “It’s fun.”
(Photo by Tyler Heineman and Kevin Kiermaier: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)