08/28/2002 11:04 pm ET
Bocachica's spectacular catch
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Bobby Higginson and Robert Fick earn all the defensive highlights for assists in the Tigers outfield. But on Wednesday, Hiram Bocachica topped them with "The Catch."
It's the type of play a center fielder dreams of -- a diving or sliding grab in the gap off of a full sprint, a near-collision on the warning track, an outstretched glove snaring the ball at the shoestrings to keep an opponent from scoring.
Bocachica's sixth-inning catch in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Indians had all of that. But the shoestrings belonged to Robert Fick.
"That was a great play," first baseman Carlos Peña said in a way that let Bocachica's defense sound like a previously guarded secret. "Bocachica can play."
The well-known defensive wizard involved in the play, in fact, was at the plate. It was Omar Vizquel who set up the highlight by crushing a drive deep into right-center field. While Fick
pursued from right field, Bocachica was dashing out from center.
Bocachica isn't a natural center fielder, but rather a converted second baseman. On this night, he looked like he'd played center field all his life.
"Just the way I feel out there and the way I work on seeing the ball during batting practice," Bocachica said, "that's why I think I'm able to read the ball off the bat so well.
"If the ball stays in the stadium, I'm going to try 150 percent to catch the ball."
But 150 percent never looks so harrowing at home.In spacious Comerica Park, Bocachica likely would have ample room to stay on his feet and make a running catch unimpeded. Jacobs Field, however, is a little different. Both Fick and Bocachica had solid reads on the ball heading towards the warning track in right-center field. Neither had a view of each other until the ball was falling.
"We didn't see each other until right at the end," Bocachica said. "I'm just glad we didn't collide."
Once they saw each other, they took evasive action. Fick seemingly tried to peel off of the play and toward the warning track, but the ball continued to carry Bocachica towards him. Bocachica was moving so fast, he didn't have time to change direction.
So Bocachica slid in hopes of at least avoiding a body-on-body collision. As he did, he took his eyes off the ball for the only time
during the play and made an educated guess where it would hit.
"Right at the end," he said when asked when he lost it. "I just put the glove out where I thought the ball would be."
When he did, Bocachica's stretched his glove arm in the direction Fick was headed. The ball landed in his glove,
seemingly between Fick's feet, as Fick stepped over his arm and Bocachica skidded down the warning track.
"He only made the catch because he's built so low to the ground," Damian Jackson joked afterward.
The grab kept the game tied at 1-1, if only for two batters. Jim Thome put another ball in right-center deep enough where
the Tigers wouldn't catch it, depositing Brian Powell's curveball into the bleachers.
Bocachica's catch made a hitless performance at the plate against C.C. Sabathia seem trivial. It was the type of effort that makes Peña appreciate the days Bocachica is in the lineup.
"No matter where you put him, he makes plays," Peña said. "And what shouldn't
be overlooked is he's got a great arm. He makes things happen every time he goes out there. He's done that for us ever since he's been here, whether it's a diving or a running catch, or a good throw."
Somehow, Jacobs Field must bring out some of that. He came to the Tigers at the tail end of their last series in Cleveland and played in the getaway game. He went 2-for-5 that day with a home run, coincidentally off Sabathia, and two runs scored.
Wednesday marked only the third time in the last week-and-a-half that Bocachica was out in center field. Yet while he admits it's tough on him at the plate to face a pitcher like Sabathia after several days off, he's brutally tough on himself in the field. He all but blamed himself for a loss last week against Seattle in which he looked over the wrong shoulder on a ball that glanced off his glove on a similar attempt.
That play made the highlights for Seattle's comeback victory. Wednesday's catch will make it on its own merits. Bocachica, for one, hasn't seen it yet.
"I think that's my highlight," Bocachica smiled.
Jason Beck covers the Tigers for MLB.com and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
"Just the way I feel out there and the way I work on seeing the ball during batting practice, that's why I think I'm able to read the ball off the bat so well."
-- HIRAM BOCACHICA