ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Chris Tillman threw six hitless innings, Brian Roberts broke a scoreless tie with a three-run homer, and everybody wants to talk about Nick Markakis.
I’m fine with it.
Markakis made one of the most outstanding, clutch catches you’ll ever see, taking away a game-tying extra-base hit from Ben Zobrist with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to preserve a 3-1 victory over the Rays. Markakis leaped for the ball, caught it at the top of the fence and crashed into the padding before collapsing on the warning track.
I couldn’t tell whether Markakis held onto the ball until I noticed Roberts spinning in the air and pumping his fist. I took it as a good sign. Game over.
“I have said over and over again, it’s a crime that he hasn’t won a Gold Glove by this point,” Roberts said. “To me, he’s the best right fielder in the game. I’ve watched it for six years. If you didn’t believe me before now, I hope you do now.
“I knew (Zobrist) didn’t hit it as good as the one he hit last night, but I knew he hit it pretty well and I just kind of held my breath. When I was watching Nick going after it, I thought it was either off the top of the wall or gone.”
Manager Buck Showalter had a bad feeling when the ball left Zobrist’s bat with two on and two out against closer Kevin Gregg.
“When he hit it, I thought he got enough of it, especially when it had a little hook to it, but obviously that’s the play you talk about,” Showalter said. “The important guy didn’t think it was out, and that was Nicky.”
So is Markakis the best defensive right fielder in baseball?
“You’d have to show me somebody better,” Showalter said. “We get the great fortune to watch him play every day and I would certainly debate that point in Nicky’s behalf. He works at it, takes a lot of pride in it. He separates the game and I think if we can play better as a team this year, I think more people around baseball will realize what we already know.”
Markakis doesn’t say much, so he wasn’t going to spend a lot of time giving himself rave reviews.
“I had a good feeling at the end that it wasn’t going to go out and I gave it my best effort to catch it and it ended up in my glove,” he said.
“I knew I had to go for it. It was one of those do-or-die plays. You either catch it or you end up with a tie game. It worked out good for us in the end.”