There’s a talented school of fish on the field in Miami. And despite the team’s recent struggles, fans have been treated to an assortment of individual showcases.
Primarily, Ichiro is a wizard on the diamond. Known for his uncanny ability to guide any pitch off his swift bat for a hit, he’s just as smooth in the field. The 41 year-old outfielder has been a vital presence in Miami’s lineup this season, and it was evident in the ninth inning Sunday.
Although it was nullified by Steve Cishek’s blown save, Ichiro pulled off one of the most intelligent and cunning plays you’ll ever see. With the Marlins up by one, the Giants had a runner on first with no one out in the bottom of ninth inning. Gregor Blanco hit a long fly ball to right field, toward the wall. Ichiro backed up and turned towards home plate a few paces from the warning track as though positioning himself to catch the ball. The drive, however, was well over his head and clanked off the rigid right field wall.
Ichiro, though, had deked Joaquin Arias, the runner on first. When Arias saw Ichiro turn, he froze in the basepath assuming the ball may be caught. Luckily for Ichiro, the ball bounced directly towards him after it hit the wall. He quickly threw it in and Arias had to hold at third base, momentarily preserving Miami’s lead.
A few things here: Foremost, Ichiro’s decision, assuming it was as deliberate as it appeared, was unbelievably clever. To know that the Marlins were up by a run and that the tying run would score as a result of the hit, and to make the decision he did in the knick of time is incredible. He pulled it off to perfection. Second, it was unbelievably risky. The right field wall at AT&T Park in San Francisco is notorious for producing strangely-angled rebounds. Ichiro, of all players, should know this. In 2007, he was the beneficiary of such a bounce during the All-Star Game when he skied one off the wall and rounded the bases for the only inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history. He lucked out again Sunday when the ball bounded right back to where he was standing. Had it ricocheted the opposite direction, the game could have ended on the play.
Knowing the situation and taking the risk are indicative of his sagacious veteran qualities as both a player and a leader. Luckily for him and the Marlins, it paid off–for the time being, albeit.
Ichiro was playing the right field spot that normally belongs to baseball’s best slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The two players are a unique juxtaposition of the generations of talent in the league, as well as the different styles of play that characterize a star. Stanton, the 25 year-old outfielder who stands at 6-foot-6, made headlines Tuesday with his mammoth home run that exited Dodger Stadium.
Stanton is a southern California native, and has traditionally hit well at parks out west, including Dodger Stadium. The blast Tuesday, though, was a first for him. He smashed an 0-1 offering in the first inning an estimated 475 feet to left field, completely clearing the bleachers and clanking off the top of the pavilion roof, bouncing somewhere behind the seats. Andy Van Slyke, the Dodger left fielder, did not so much as take a jab step back on the ball, merely watching it sail out of sight.
It was Stanton’s eighth homer of the season. Since the start of 2014, Stanton himself has hit six homers that have traveled at least 460 feet. That’s double the number that any other Major League team has put up. The Toronto Blue Jays have the next-highest with three.
The other studs for Miami this season? Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and second baseman Dee Gordon. The duo has turned several dazzling double plays this season in the field, and Hechavarria particularly is showing he has one of the best defensive ranges in the game.
Gordon, meanwhile, has been garnering attention at the plate. He has 58 hits already in just 32 games, leading the Major Leagues with a .426 average. He has also stolen 12 bases in 19 attempts, which leads the team. As they say, speed never slumps, and Gordon exhibits some of the swiftest base running in the business. It will be intriguing to see if he can keep putting the ball in play with such efficiency. The record for hits in a season is 262, held by none other than teammate Ichiro (2004).