The Rockies have a bunch of great defenders, especially in the infield, which led to some jaw-dropping plays. The best of them all, though, was a double play turned by DJ LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki, and Justin Morneau.
I’ll get into some honorable mentions later, because the Rockies had multiple nice plays in the field in 2014. But this play, which happened against the Nationals on July 2, was clearly the best of them all.
I picked this play for a few different reasons. In general, I have a few requirements for a play to be considered a true highlight. First, the play has to be out of the ordinary. Secondly, it has to show true defensive skill. It also must be fun to watch and appreciated. This play hits all of those requirements and does so much more.
Off the bat, it looked like a simple hard-hit single up the middle. Given the guy at the plate, Anthony Rendon, that was very unsurprising. Rendon is a good hitter who reached out to the outside corner and slapped it up the middle. Whenever you see a ball bounce just around a pitcher or through his legs, the ball is almost certain to reach centerfield unless there is some sort of shift on the hitter.
That wasn’t the case this time. LeMahieu sprinted to his right and slid to glove the ball. That in of itself would have been a pretty nice play, and watching it live, I expected LeMahieu to just hold onto the ball. Instead, he flipped the ball toward second base, where Tulowitzki was waiting. While simultaneously stepping on the base and spinning, Tulo caught the ball with his bare hand. Stop the video there, and just think about how tough it is to catch a ball that probably has a ton of spin on it with your bare hand before spinning and throwing to first base.
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Tulo, who is among the most skilled defensive shortstops in baseball, did just that. I don’t even know how to describe his footwork on this play; after spinning, he quickly moved his feet so they straddled second base so that he could whip the ball in time to get Rendon out. You can also see his arm strength and accuracy, as he had to rush his throw to get Rendon out and still whipped it right at Morneau in time to barely get him out.
The fact that even Nationals fans applauded this play is telling. Opposing fans rarely applaud a play unless it’s really something special or unless history is in the making. To me, that’s proof that this play was immediately appreciated, which makes it that much better.
But there were many plays this year that were fun to watch and showed the pure defensive skill the Rockies possess. The main reason that I picked this double play is because of the teamwork that was required between LeMahieu and Tulowitzki to turn it in time. The second baseman (who won his first Gold Glove) and shortstop were a terrific combination all year (with the obligatory “while Tulo was healthy”), and this is just the best of their double plays.
It required knowledge by Tulo of when the ball would come, and it required LeMahieu to anticipate Tulo being at second base at the right time. It was simply fantastic.
I almost picked a Nolan Arenado play, because I think Arenado is not only the best defender on the Rockies but also one of the best highlight-makers in all of baseball. A game between the Rockies and Dodgers comes to mind. In that game, Arenado made one incredible play (a diving stop and subsequent throw to first that robbed Scott Van Slyke of a double) and at least three more great ones, showcasing his strong arm and barehanded pickups. Here’s Arenado in that April 27 game.
A couple of diving catches Brandon Barnes made also come to mind, and he also robbed Rene Rivera of a possible game-tying home run late in the season. The fact that he then started to jaw with Padres fans, who loudly booed him, made that play just that little bit better, as did the fact that Adam Ottavino thought it was a homer as soon as it left Rivera’s bat.
Tulowitzki, LeMahieu, and Arenado all made some really fantastic defensive plays throughout the year. This double play, though, is the best of the bunch. It required amazing skill by both D.J. and Tulo and was really fun to watch.