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The best defensive plays of the decade

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Did your favorite Brandon Crawford highlight make the cut? Yes, they all made the cut.

2014 World Series Game 7: San Francisco Giants v. Kansas City Royals

This last decade saw the Golden Age of Giants baseball and it might not have been possible without defensive brilliance. A few dropped balls and booted grounders, and some of the best moments in Giants history might never have happened. Even in the losing years, the Giants had plenty of Web Gems™ to keep the team watchable. Below are the greatest defensive plays from the last decade in no particular order.

Ángel Pagán ruins Carlos Quentin’s evening

By the time he joined the Giants, Pagán’s best defensive days were behind him. At least according to advanced metrics. Still, Pagán was plenty capable of producing jaw-dropping catches from time to time including this time when he turned a double into a double play.

Doubling up a runner at first from the outfield is usually the result of a screwup on the runner’s part, but this was a rare instance where the outfielder had to catch a ball that shouldn’t have been catchable and make a perfect relay to get him.

The Flip

There’s no clutch metric for defense. Win probability added only gets ascribed to pitchers and hitters. If there was a way to measure how impactful a defensive play was based on the situation and likelihood of making the play, not only would this have been the biggest play for the Giants of the decade, it would be likely be one of the biggest plays in history. If Joe Panik doesn’t get to this ball, it’s first and third with one out in a game that was ultimately decided by one run. Lorenzo Cain would have scored, Madison Bumgarner would never have come in, and we would be thrust onto an even darker timeline than the one we currently occupy.

Shoutout to Eric Hosmer for diving into first base. You da real MVP.

Kevin Pillar overruns a homer somehow

2019 was a banner year for outfielders climbing to the top of the wall and realizing they misjudged the trajectory of the ball. Marcell Ozuna may have taken the Webby in that category, but Pillar was a close runner up. Unlike Ozuna, Pillar only made a slight miscalculation, and he of course, actually caught the ball.

When Kevin Pillar arrived, he came with the promise of ridiculous catches that would keep us warm through the winter. He gave us that and more (20 dingers). Here’s to more plays like this in 2020.

*receives note*

Ah, well, nevertheless.

Brandon Crawford existing

It’s impossible to select just one Brandon Crawford highlight from the decade. Crawford’s discography is as vast as it is impressive. Crawford is the Samuel L. Jackson of the Giants defense. He’s in everything and no one agrees on what his best work is. Me, I’m partial to Deep Blue Sea and this play:

But maybe I’m just a lowbrow plebeian. Perhaps you’re partial to this game-saving play from 2019.

Or maybe you remember this double play he started to preserve a Jake Peavy no-hitter through seven innings.

Or maybe you just like the EP.

Crawford has something to offer for everyone.

Dag Yabel Got ‘Em

This one gets an assist from Duane Kuiper. It’s an otherwise forgettable play, but it’s a beautiful reminder of just how difficult broadcasting a live baseball game can be. Just to think of words—any words—at all in the 3.7 seconds it takes for a baseball play to unfold can be an impossible task for me, a dummy. If I had to write each article in an uninterrupted, reactionary stream of consciousness without any time to consider what I’ll say next, it would be Dag Yabel Got ‘Em all the way down.

Angel Pagan saves Game Five

Everything that came after the Posey grand slam threatened to—hold on.

latos

There we go.

Everything after the Posey grand slam threatened to wipe that from our memory. Every time the Reds put a runner on, it was as if the baseball gods were whispering in our ears, “Yes, a grand slam against Mat Latos in a winner-take-all game is too good to be true. It was all a dream. You’ll wake up shortly, and the Giants will be eliminated.”

Pagán, however, staved off what would have been the most crushing defeat since Ivan Rodríguez pulled JT Snow’s still-beating heart out of his chest. If Pagán doesn’t catch that ball, at least one run scores and the inning is still going with runners at the corners. The Reds, of course, scored two in the ninth, so that one run sure mattered.

Grégor Blanco saves the Perfect Game

There always has to be one. No perfect game or no-hitter has ever been thrown without the aid of a stellar defensive play. For Lincecum’s first no-hitter, it was Hunter Pence diving in a way only Hunter Pence could to wrangle a low-liner. Grégor Blanco’s diving catch would be worth remembering without the context of the perfect game. Blanco had to travel across grassy plains, craggy mountains, and surging rivers to get to that ball, and even then, he had to lay completely out.

In Grant’s 50 Awesome Things About Matt Cain’s Perfect Game, #28 was “The idea that Grégor Blanco was a minor-league free agent looking for an organization this winter, and now he’s an inextricable part of Giants lore.” If Blanco had booted that ball in Game Seven a second time and Alex Gordon scored, you could have forgiven him. The Giants already had two World Series championships in the last five years, but they had never had a perfect game in their entire history. Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Christy Mathewson couldn’t never do that, but those three never had Grégor Blanco.