Jeff over at Lookout Landing made a good point yesterday about Franklin Gutierrez’s sensational diving catch of Alexi Casilla’s drive — the best of many great defensive plays by Gutierrez. He writes, “Let this be the game that allows Gutierrez to win Seattle’s heart. Let this be the game that compels the city to forgive Jack Zduriencik for trading their favorite closer.”
I think there’s something to the notion about creating indelible moments that win over fans. I think back, specifically, to Mike Cameron in 2000. He had the thankless task of replacing the sainted Ken Griffey Jr in center. No one knew too much about Cammy back then. On Opening Day, he struck out three times, which didn’t help. Of course, the opposing pitcher was Pedro Martinez, in his absolute prime, who made the entire team look silly with seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball, including 11 strikeouts.
Then the Yankees came to town (how’s that for a season-opening homestand — the Red Sox, followed by the Yankees?). On April 7, Cameron had his signature moment, leaping over the fence after a long run to rob Derek Jeter of a homer and help preserve the Mariners’ 7-5 victory at Safeco Field.
The crowd went nuts. As Bob Finnigan wrote in the Seattle Times, “It was as if with this outpouring of affection Seattle was saying: “Welcome, Mike.”
Continued Finnigan: “These people know great play in center. This play was the equal of any from…well, from the previous center fielder.”
Mike Cameron was a very popular figure from that moment on. Of course, it helped that he had a winning personality, continued to perform well, and the team made the postseason in each of his first two seasons. But many Mariners’ fans still pinpoint that catch as the beginning of their Cameron love affair.
Fast forward one year — almost exactly one year, in fact, to April 11, 2001, in Oakland. The new right fielder, a mysterious fellow named Ichiro Suzuki, fields a single by Ramon Hernandez, and unleashes a throw — The Throw — to nail Terrence Long trying to advance from first to third. A legend was born.
Again, I turned to the archive and found Finnigan’s writeup of the game: “Think of the best throw you’ve ever seen and forget it. This had to be as good if not better, a 200-foot lightning bolt that was never more than 10 feet off the ground as it cut down Terrence Long trying to advance to third base on Ramon Hernandez’s single to right.
“I’ve seen some pretty good arms,” Manager Lou Piniella said. “Dave Parker, Ellis Valentine, Jay (Buhner) when I came here–but, boy, that ball had some hop on it.”
Buhner said if he has seen a better throw, “it hasn’t been for a long time. You just don’t see a guy throw like that all the way in the air, when it’s cold as hell, when he’s been sitting for seven innings.”
I had forgotten that part of it — Ichiro entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and singled to start the winning rally in a 3-0 Seattle victory.
That moment, that throw, accelerated the perception that Ichiro was more than just a good player, but rather something special. It was one play that reverberated around baseball, and into the consciousness of Mariner fans.
Will Gutierrez’s amazing catch have the same effect? It very well could. Can you think of any other moments in the past that have instantly won you over to a particular player?