Every superhero hides behind an alter-ego. While walking among us, they pretend to be us, ensuring that we never suspect them of wielding otherworldly powers.
Austin Jackson blew his cover wide open.
In last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox, he made perhaps the greatest catch in Cleveland Indians history. If a mere mortal patrolled the center field of Fenway last night, Hanley Ramirez would have launched a bomb to bring the Red Sox to within one. Instead, Action Jackson erased it with an acrobatic effort.
There are no words to describe this catch.— MLB (@MLB) August 2, 2017
, Austin Jackson. pic.twitter.com/SzrL7AwqXK
It’s not very often that we witness such a ridiculous play, and so I have no choice but to Examine it as Closely as possible.
Let’s begin with the context of the game: Chris Sale and Carlos Carrasco started last night. Neither made it to the sixth inning, and both allowed at least five runs. By the time Jackson made his catch, it was already an exceedingly strange game. Sale starting also means that Jackson played mostly because of handedness. Were Sale not a lefty it’s probable that Bradley Zimmer makes the lineup at CF instead.
All of this set the stage for the miraculous catch. First, let’s analyze Jackson’s break for the ball.
We cannot see the first few steps of Jackson’s route, but it appears that he’s playing middle-deep center field. If we consider the dimensions of Fenway Park and use Sketchy Statcast, we see the following results:
116 feet is an incredible amount of distance to cover on a well-hit fly ball. This is true even if you aren’t going at a dead sprint, directly toward a wall. This ball hung in the air for about six seconds according to the highly advanced Mississippi-One counter. According to Real Statcast, Jackson’s sprint speed only peaks at 27 feet per second. This still gives him time to accelerate, reach the spot, and judge the ball.
Now, we turn to the leaping catch itself. Jackson posts up at the wall and skies for the ball, taking a two-footed Dominique Wilkins slam-dunk leap.
How high off the ground does Jackson rise? Well, a wizard leaps precisely as high as he needs to. No more.
Glove fully extended, his hip lands on the lip of the wall and turns into a perfect fulcrum. He spins elegantly down with the help of his throwing hand.
As Jackson completes his elegant somersault, the Red Sox bullpen coaches look on as if judging a single bar gymnastics routine at the Olympics. From left to right:
“Solid execution, although the form could use some work.”
“Whew lad, that’s a mite ambitious there don’t you think?”
Jackson sticks the landing, takes a split second to compose himself, then presents the ball for the umpire’s consideration. This is when a series of beautiful reactions commenced.
Dan Otero raises his arms into the air, presumably muttering, “My life for you. MY LIFE FOR YOU, AUSTIN.” Unfortunately the Indians would go on to burn everything they’d built to the ground, then explode it with a nuclear bomb instantly evaporating everything they loved and cherished....but it didn’t come at the hands of Otero.
Jackson and Brandon Guyer exchanged a quick high five after the play. Jackson, for the most part, played it cool and returned to his spot in the outfield. In this picture, Guyer appears to be pleading for Jackson to please not absorb his soul.
Hanley Ramirez didn’t seem too upset about his home run being robbed. I adore moments like this in baseball, when a player sees one of is peers do something so spectacular that for a moment, they are just a fan again. Here’s another shot of that, with Michael Brantley, Francisco Lindor, and Jackson himself admiring the replay of the catch on the jumbotron.
Red Sox fans shared a similar reaction. They offered Jackson a standing ovation for the catch after it replayed on the video board, with a brief reprise when he next came up to bat.
Where does this catch stand in the history of Cleveland Indians baseball? It’s right near the top, if not the peak. I can remember Kenny Lofton boosting himself up the wall in right center at Jacobs Field to rob someone. I have vivid memories of Grady Sizemore laying out to snatch a ball out of the air right above the grass. I don’t think either of those types of plays required the same overall athleticism as Jackson’s. He needed to be fast enough to reach the ball, experience enough to judge it’s flight, agile enough to soar into the night, and coordinated enough to hang on throughout a somersault into the bullpen.
Despite the outcome of the game, there’s a very good chance that this catch will become the highlight clip of Austin Jackson’s career.
One downside to this play is that Jim Rosenhaus called it. 95% of the time, I have nothing against Tom Hamilton’s booth partner. The issue arises when something spectacular happens. Rosey just doesn’t have the extra gear necessary to give a moment the proper gravity. I don’t even want to post the audio, so here’s the transcript:
"Jackson back, leaps at the bullpen wall, and he goes flipping over the wall. Did he catch the ball? Jackson gets up, aaaaaand… he has the baseball! Austin Jackson with the catch of the year!"
He may as well have been discussing the proper setting at which to toast a bagel.
In the rubble of last night’s loss — the Indians recorded three outs in the bottom of the ninth, then allowed a walk-off home run to a defense-first, platooned catcher — the Indians could use some more superhuman feats from Jackson to bounce back. What’s next? Hitting a ball into the Charles River? Stealing home from first base? Curing Tito of whatever foul temptation makes him chew tobacco and gum at the same time?
While the last of this is unattainable, we can only hope that Action Jackson has more in store to restore the vitality of the Cleveland Indians after last night’s blunder.