Few things can stop an entire clubhouse of major league players in their tracks, but when the highlight of Adam Jones’ highlight-reel robbery of Orioles teammate Manny Machado's would-be homer in Saturday night’s World Baseball Classic elimination game was played on the televisions inside the team clubhouse Sunday morning, all eyes were fixed on the screens.
Jones’ leaping grab over the center-field wall at Petco Park, which came at a critical moment in Team USA’s elimination-game win over the Dominican Republic in Jones’ hometown of San Diego, was spectacular by any standard. But it was also the latest big moment in a WBC that has given Jones national recognition on an international stage. It occurred well after midnight Saturday, so few on the East Coast saw it live, but the buzz around the grab lingered well into morning.
With the United States leading 4-2 in the seventh inning, Machado hit a blast to center. Jones sped to his left and, just in front of the 396-foot outfield marker, jumped against the wall midstride, fully extending his arm over the wall as he hit the barrier to keep Machado’s ball in the ballpark. All while avoiding several fans attempting to take home a souvenir.
Jones bounced off the wall and took the ball out of his glove for all to see as Machado, who'd thought his blast was a home run, doffed his helmet and tipped it in Jones’ direction as he rounded first base.
“Oh, my goodness,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the catch. “Unfortunately, I saw it live. That was a great moment. I loved the way Manny handled it. If you didn’t know they were teammates before the game, you know it now. … The thing I loved about it the most is that there was a Yankee fan trying to get into the field of play that he took it away from. That was probably the highlight for me.”
The catch was pivotal in Team USA’s do-or-die win against the Dominican Republic, as it advanced to the WBC semifinals for the first time in tournament history. Robinson Cano followed Machado with a solo homer, meaning the game could have been tied had Machado’s ball left the yard.
“I'm still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball,” Jones said in the postgame news conference. “I mean, off the bat, I'm just, like, 'This ball's hit really far, so just keep going, keep going.' You know this California air's going to slow it down, and just never quit. That's just the style I play with. I don't mind running into a wall or two. I just kept going after the ball, and I've seen the replay after the game, and I went for the catch.”
Showalter said Jones probably had an idea of how to position himself in the outfield against Machado.
“There’s a lot of guts it takes to make those plays, but I got out of it that a lot of people don’t play [Machado] where he was playing him,” Showalter said. “I think he knew kind of where he might hit it if it stayed in the park, and that one didn’t stay in the park until it got into Adam’s glove.”
Both Jones and Machado, the two biggest faces of an Orioles franchise that hasn't received much national attention despite its recent success, have taken advantage of the WBC's big stage. Machado was the Most Valuable Player of last weekend’s pool-play games in Miami as the Dominicans finished 3-0.
Jones similarly has emerged as the face of the U.S. run to the semifinals, even given the unofficial tag as this team’s "Captain America." Jones had a walk-off hit to beat Colombia in pool play. He belted a game-tying home run against Venezuela on Wednesday and added another homer in the second round against Puerto Rico.
“It’s not surprising to us who get to see them,” Showalter said. “It’s great for some of the people that haven’t get to see it. … I don’t know why people don’t see it. You’d have to tell me. But we see that every night.”
All those moments were critical to moving the United States to within two wins of its its first WBC title — it plays Japan on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium — but the image of Jones reaching over the center-field fence as Petco Park, the Team USA logo across his chest, American flags waving behind him, might be one of the most memorable of the tournament.
“I think when you watch him make plays like that, you fall back to people who think he’s actually an average outfielder in the big leagues,” Orioles closer Zach Britton said. “We’re like, ‘Do these people actually watch him play?’ And these people watch this and we’re like, ‘Well, we already know he was a great player.’ I just think [the reaction] is kind of funny when we see him make plays like that. Maybe we take it for granted, too.”
In the postgame news conference, Jones’ catch was compared to a leaping, home-run robbing catch by Angels center fielder Mike Trout in 2012. But Jones noted that that grab — of a blast by Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy — was made in the first inning of a regular-season game in late June.
“This was on a different scale, different magnitude,” Jones said. “Unbelievable catches, both of them. Just showing the athleticism that we both have.”
Jones hadn’t checked his phone for a text message from Machado before speaking to reporters after the game, but Britton said Jones will definitely make sure Machado remembers it.
“It’s fun watching those guys compete because there’s that friendly rivalry,” Britton said. “I guess Manny’s just going to have to hit it further next time. That’s what Jonesy’s gonna tell him when he gets back.”