BALTIMORE -- Unreal.
That’s the first word Red Sox manager Alex Cora came up with when asked to describe the best and biggest play of his team’s season so far. Cora then said it again to emphasize the point.
Jackie Bradley Jr. was the one who made the unreal become real in what became an exhilarating 2-1 win for the Red Sox over the Orioles in 12 innings.
The center fielder went skyward, planted his right foot on the wall for his first step, and then his left foot for the second step and took what would have been Trey Mancini’s walk-off home run back into the ballpark for the second out of the 11th inning.
“That should count as a win for him,” Red Sox lefty David Price said of Bradley. “Shoot, if he doesn’t make that catch, we don’t win this game. That’s Jackie being Jackie.”
The momentum of the game-saver carried into the top of the 12th when Andrew Benintendi hit a go-ahead homer.
A season that had turned sour early for Boston is finally back on even footing. For the first time since March 31, when they were 1-1, the defending World Series champions are back at .500.
And it was Bradley who got them back even again.
“Big-time circumstances,” said Bradley. “If you don’t catch it we go home.”
All Mancini could do was literally take his helmet off and tip it in Bradley’s direction.
“You know, it’s kind of hard to do in the moment, but it’s, I think, the right thing because you have respect for your opponents and when they make a play like that you acknowledge it,” Mancini said. “It’s kind of something I feel like has always been done in baseball and I wanted to do it there, even though it was kind of tough to get the helmet off my head there.”
“I didn’t look at him,” said Bradley. “I was too focused on getting ready for the next play.”
As Bradley low-keyed the latest of many tremendous catches of his career, the Red Sox celebrated their defensive wizard.
“That’s why we love having him out there. He just looks like he’s supposed to do it,” said Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who struck out 14 over eight brilliant frames and also turned in an immaculate inning. “Even after the catch, no emotion [from Bradley]. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I planned on it.’ But yeah, you love seeing that and I think that obviously gives everyone a boost when stuff like that happens.”
The first thing Bradley had to do was give himself a boost and get his glove as high as possible to snag the baseball. It wasn’t like Mancini’s drive barely cleared the wall of the Baltimore bullpen. It was several feet above it.
How did Bradley make it happen?
“I just went back, tracked it, got a good jump on it, timed up my footsteps the way I wanted to and got up there and executed,” said Bradley.
Orioles reliever Brandon Kline had a birds-eye view from the bullpen.
"I don't know if he made eye-contact with me or was looking in my general direction, but it felt like his entire torso was over the wall,” said Kline. “At one point, it felt like he was almost in the bullpen. It's one of the best catches I've ever seen, that's for sure."
For many players, bringing a walk-off homer back into the ballpark would be a once-in-a-career thing. This was the second such instance for Bradley, who did the same thing to Oakland’s Ryon Healy on May 19, 2017. But that dazzling grab was a footnote in a loss.
Performing that heroic in a win was more gratifying, particularly when you consider the way this season has gone for Bradley at the plate. After going 0-for-4 on Wednesday, Bradley is hitting .142 with no homers, five RBIs and a .410 OPS.
And then Bradley reminded everyone why Cora keeps playing him, night after night.
“That’s why we know the value. We know what he brings defensively every night,” said Cora. “Regardless of where he’s at offensively, that [defense] shows up. He saved the game with that play. The things he does in the outfield, it’s a plus for what we do. That’s why we have to be patient. Today, he walked, he worked the count and all that. We know at one point he’ll get hot, but defensively, he’s a plus.”
This, even though some defensive metrics say this has been a down season for Bradley thus far with the glove. According to FanGraphs, Bradley ranked 10th in the American League entering Wednesday’s game with minus-8 defensive runs saved.
Cora thinks the stat is misleading. Bradley, who won his first Gold Glove last season, has the highest standard for himself.
“It depends on the night. I could be better,” said Bradley, when asked to rate his defense this year.
But it would be hard to make a better catch than the one Bradley came up with on Wednesday.
“He expects to make every catch,” said Price. “He’s special, to say the least.”
Unreal, you might also say.