By: Will Burchfield
The moment it screamed off the bat of Salvador Perez, Brad Ausmus gave up hope.
“I didn’t think he had a chance on that ball, I didn’t think there was any chance he would catch it,” said Ausmus.
Mikie Mahtook, feeling otherwise, put his head down and ran.
“I knew I had a pretty good jump on it. At that point it was just a matter of if I was gonna be able to get to the ball in time and time (my leap).”
Bearing down on the center field wall at top speed, Mahtook hurled himself into the air, thrust his left arm skyward and squeezed the ball in the heel of his glove. One step later, he slammed into the fence and held onto the out as he crumbled to the ground.
“That,” said Ausmus, “was a tremendous play.”
Mahtook traveled 123 feet to catch a ball that went 427. Had Perez hit it just about anywhere else it would have left the yard. Had Mahtook played it like just about anyone else it would have caromed off the wall for extra bases.
But Mahtook had already taken a conservative approach on a line drive earlier in the evening, allowing Whit Merrifield a double and the first run of the game. He wasn’t going to let another one get away.
“I didn’t like pulling up at the end and the ball bouncing over (the wall). I may have not been able to get it, but it was one of those things where I just wish I would have maybe taken an extra step to lunge and get there. Those kinds of stay with you, especially after they score a few runs, but I was able to redeem myself,” said Mahtook.
It carried a price, of course. But Mahtook was happy to pay it.
“The wall doesn’t feel good, ever. I don’t care how much padding there is,” he said with a grin. “I think every bone in my back and body cracked, so at that point I was just trying to get the air back in my lungs. I just had to realize that I’m alright and I’m good.”
J.D. Martinez, who had run over from right field, was too wrapped up in Mahtook’s heroics to care about his wellbeing.
“J.D. didn’t even ask me if I was okay. He said, ‘That’s probably going to be on SportsCenter tonight.’ I was like, ‘Hey, I’m good man, thanks for asking,'” Mahtook said with a laugh.
Either way, the physical pain paled in comparison to the emotional high.
“You win games here because you wanna play for the guys in the clubhouse. To be able to come up with a play like that and have the guys meet me in the dugout, it was great. It’s something that obviously I hope I can do a lot more of,” Mahtook said. “The guys in here give you the motivation to go dive into walls.”
No one appreciated Mahtook’s effort more than starting pitcher Justin Verlander. He raised his arms above his head after the catch, almost in disbelief, and then greeted Mahtook with a hug on the infield grass — rather, Mahtook greeted Verlander.
“That was awesome. He came off the field and gave me a hug and said, ‘I owed you that one,'” said Verlander. “I think he felt like maybe he should’ve caught the one in the first, but that was hit pretty well too.”
Said Mahtook, of their enthusiastic embrace, “I wanted to give it to him. I owed him that one for not taking that extra step on Merrifield’s ball.”
Said Verlander, “That’s always a great moment, standing out there and seeing your teammate lay out and sacrifice his body to make a play for you. It doesn’t get much better than that.”