Panik to Crawford to Belt
You can click through for the video. Here's the post....
This was the best defensive play the Giants made in 2014, and not just because it likely saved a run or more in the seventh game of the World Series. And not just because it was probably the difference between winning and losing the World Series.
It wasn't just the best play of the year contextually. It was the best defensive play because it required two players, not just one, each doing more than one spectacular thing. (You can watch the video above for the advanced-technology breakdown. You can also watch an animated GIF of it over and over and over, and read a great explanation of the Giants' underrated defense, here.)
Joe Panik starts it all with a flat-out dive to snare a ground ball on a hard, fast infield. Diving on hard dirt on one's belly with a glove extended to catch a ball is something we see major leaguers do every day, but it's difficult -- and it hurts!
Panik then boosted himself up with the bare right hand enough to flip the ball out of his glove to Crawford, just in time to get the bullet-train Lorenzo Cain at second.
That's two spectacular things from Joe Panik, and if we stopped right there, it would be good enough to be the play of the night, the Series, perhaps still of the year. One out, man on first, a much more manageable situation.
But wait. There's more. Panik's flip was good, but it wasn't perfectly accurate. Crawford had to jerk his glove up and to the left to receive the flip. Just that alone: great reflexes, great catch. Because Craw had to shift his weight toward center field to catch the ball, he was in terrible position to make a throw to first.
But, as you might have noticed, he did make a throw to first. Watch the footwork. He doesn't really get momentum toward first, but he makes a mini-crow hop to at least get in better position and perhaps avoid taking Cain's helmet in his kneecap. Still, it's a throw that middle infielders will often plant in the dirt or throw wide in either direction or simply get nothing on. Not Brandon Crawford. You might call his work on that play one spectacular thing, but I like to think of it as three: the catch, the pivot, and the throw.
That's five great athletic, reflexive, instinctive feats action-packed into one play. The greatest play of the year.
And note to all players out there: The Statcast technology shows that Hosmer slowed down by more than 2 MPH by diving into first base. If he had stayed upright, he would have been safe.