Let’s Talk a Little More About Albert Almora’s Catch
I knew Albert Almora was going to make the catch before he started doing that little stutter-step just after hitting the warning track. I knew it before he was announced as the starter for Tuesday night’s game. And I knew it before he said in last year’s Spring Training that he would accept nothing short of perfection on defense.
I’ve known for nearly three years that Almora was going to rob Matt Adams to preserve the Cubs’ lead in the 7th inning of the second game of the 2017 season. How? The story’s in that link above and I’ve shared it with you before in these digital pages, but I suppose our new readers might like an excerpt.
It was a sweltering July evening in Jupiter, Florida, and the home team was down a run with two outs and a man on. The centerfielder was playing the right-handed batter to pull. Instead, the hitter laced a drive into the gap in right-center. As if fired from a pistol…no, that’s not quite right. His motion wasn’t sudden and explosive enough for that. It was more like the stream from a water pistol, pressurized to a high velocity but still fluid.
He glided across what should have been an impossible distance and dove to receive the ball into his outstretched glove. And then he felt it jarred loose by the force of his impact with the ground. Though he recovered quickly and held the batter to a double, a run scored and the game was forced into extra innings.
When he came in from the field at the conclusion of that 9th frame, the centerfielder threw his mitt in anger against the dugout wall and let loose a bilingual torrent of expletives. The video above doesn’t do it justice, but he had no business making that play. Even so, he was unwilling to accept that. He was unwilling to be anything less than perfect, and probably wanted to be even better.
And that’s when I fell in love with Albert Almora.
So when the ball left the bat of a noticeably slimmed-down Adams traveling 105.5 mph at an angle of 34 degrees, I had no doubt the centerfielder could track it down. I didn’t know the launch angle at the time, mind you, but it was clearly lofted high enough — most home runs are hit between 25 and 30 degrees — to give Almora a chance to get under it. And, boy howdy, did he ever.
“To be honest with you, when he hit the ball I thought it was gonna be long gone,” Almora admitted to CSN Chicago’s Kelly Crull immediately after the game. “But we’ve been talking all night in the dugout, the wind’s kinda killing everything out there.
“So I felt the track and when I saw it was kinda dying, I was like, ‘You know what, I’m gonna go for it.” And it ended up in my glove, so it was kinda cool. I saw Uehara come out and almost break my hand with the hardest high-five I’ve ever felt. That’s just what it’s all about.”
Joe Maddon had some pretty high praise for his young star, comparing him to former Cardinal and Cub Jim Edmonds, who Maddon knows well from their days in Anaheim.
“I saw Jimmy before the game and I said, ‘Almora reminds me of you,'” Maddon told reporters after the win. “And he was at the game tonight, so hopefully he stuck around to see that play.
“And he’s really good. Listen, Albert’s not — just like Jimmy, Jimmy wasn’t the fastest guy — Albert’s not the fastest guy. They both ran great routes and they had a great nose, instinct for the ball — when to jump, when to get to the wall, how to get to the wall.
“He got to the wall perfectly right there,” Maddon emphasized with a wagging finger. “Meaning he didn’t have his butt up against the wall, he was sideways where he could actually jump. If you get your butt against the wall you cannot jump. So he did everything well and, of course, that’s a pretty pertinent play tonight.”
The Cubs manager did a great job describing Almora’s technique of staying perpendicular to the wall rather than backing into it. That not only allowed him to leap up to make the catch, but also to plant his right foot into the padding for a little extra oomph at the end. But even that is underselling it.
How many times have we seeing an outfielder pursuing a ball so doggedly that he loses track of the immovable object in his path? Or on the other side of the coin, he’s so hyper-aware of the looming wall that he pulls up too short or gets alligator arms and fails to make the play? That Almora did neither is notable. That he made the play at the wall without ever once looking at it is downright remarkable.
The gallery below contains four shots of the play and, despite the grainy nature of the screepcaps, you can see in each one that Almora’s focus remains solely on the flight of the ball. Like Spider-Man, he’s got an innate sense of danger and is able to adjust on the fly to avoid it. And from the looks of it, Almora can do a little wall-crawling as well.
If you haven’t already broken it down seven or eight times, go back and watch the video. Pause it if you need to. You’ll see that Almora flattens his route has he approaches the track, shortening his steps and moving laterally to meet the ball and avoid a head-on collision. That path also sets up the sideways orientation Maddon mentioned.
This was a spectacular play made even more so by the impact it had on the game, but it’s going to end up as one clip of many on Almora’s highlight reel by the time the season’s over. Before long, everyone else is going to feel the same way I do about the young man for whom perfection is the baseline. But don’t worry about Almora taking himself too seriously, he’s more than willing to celebrate along the way.
“That’s just Cubs baseball, we’re having a lot of fun. I can’t wait to go inside and party.”