Before Jonathan Schoop's walk-off RBI double gave the Orioles a 1-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in the bottom of the 13th inning Thursday night, it was a game dictated by pitching and defense.
And as rookie right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis — inserted into the game in the top of the 13th hours after he was officially recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on the first day of roster expansion — earned his first major league win, he could thank a familiar face for saving him.
With two outs and a runner on second base, former Oriole Steve Pearce lined a ball down the left-field line where Trey Mancini — a first baseman by trade now playing left field — initially broke left then turned right, sprinted toward the warning track and made a leaping catch to take away extra bases from Pearce and keep the game tied.
"I thought I had a chance," Mancini said. "Whenever I went up in the air I was just hoping and praying that it ended up in my glove. I thought it was a 50-50 shot. Someone told me it was a 60-percent catch probability or something, so those advanced stats kind of find a way to bring me down to earth a little bit."
Actually, Pearce's line drive had a hit probability of 69 percent, according to Statcast. By comparison, Schoop's game-winning double into right-center had a hit probability of 68 percent.
"That was unreal, I've been playing with Trey since 2013," Yacabonis said. "So making that catch is an unreal play, a big-time play. I think I owe him something after that."
Mancini and Yacabonis has a deep history together. They were in the same draft class — Mancini picked in the eighth round of Notre Dame and Yacabonis five rounds later out of St. Joe's — and they moved through the Orioles minor league system together. Now, their lockers are next to each other in the Orioles clubhouse at Camden Yards.
Asked whether he believed Mancini had a bead on Pearce's drive to left, Yacabonis said with a smile that he thought Mancini had it all along. Within earshot, Mancini rolled his eyes and laughed.
"Yeah, I thought it was right at him," Yacabonis said. "I was like, he's got it, it's right at him, right at his chest, and he started going back and I was like, 'Uh oh.' He made a really nice play."
The play was the latest example of Mancini's quick development as a corner outfielder. He has said that over time, he's grown more confident at the position. And while he acknowledged being tentative there at first, he now wants every ball to come his way.
"That was one of the plays that are probably the toughest ones for me and yeah, it looked like it was coming right at me at first, but I knew I was going to have to go back on it. It was just a matter of which way to break…. Luckily, I jumped right at the last second and got enough glove on it to catch it. It definitely felt good to make that play there."
Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter: "The last month it's really come together for him. You can tell his breaks, his confidence level, getting a feel for the third deck. I never thought he would throw and pick it up that quickly, but he has."
Friday night's play involved instinct and athleticism, but more than anything, it was a result of the work he's done to get used to an unfamiliar position.
"It's the reason I've been working so hard out there and practicing," Mancini said. I've always known that there's going to come a time in a close game when I'm going to have to make a play similar to that and that's why you put in the work every day."