The ball is lofted. A 70 MPH Tyler Rogers frisbee will do that—but it has backspin, carrying. Upon contact, the scant crowd (classic Dodgers fans) that had stayed behind jump to their feet. Arms raise in triumphant. The bench clears, players vault the railing, run up the steps to the field to watch the ball drift towards the left field wall.
But Mike Tauchman has it tracked from the start. He was playing deep anyway, no doubles in a now tied ball game. He doesn’t turn and bolt towards the wall, but follows the fly back, deliberate and to his left, shoulders angled. His pace is quick. He’s not sprinting, but it’s not a pop-up dance. He knows the wall is coming. Near the warning track, he checks the amount of space he has to work with. After some instinctual mathematical calculations, taking into account the ball trajectory and distance to wall, he stutter steps, picks the fly up again, alters his course slightly, bounds towards the fence, plants off the around-the-league scoreboard and extends. As man meets wall, glove meets ball and Tauchman falls down onto the warning track delivering a priceless gift: A lost game retrieved from the depths.
MIKE TAUCHMAN WITH THE CATCH OF THE YEAR pic.twitter.com/PmGZbeV6oZ— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) May 29, 2021
A quieted Dodger Stadium. The disbelief of the batter, slowing their trot around first base, looking out at the man who wronged them, checking the scoreboard to see if it was really true. Expressions of disbelief, entitlement on Pujols, Barnes, the Dodgers collective bench–how dare someone take away their win. How dare they be wronged in this way.
The reactions in May foreshadow the reactions in October when Gavin Lux’s “home run” died on the warning track. We didn’t know it at the time, but we could feel it: the crisp Fall air in late Spring.
I am relishing these moments because I have to. The Dodgers, ostensibly, had the last laugh in the end. Or I guess, the Braves did. Whatever. It’s all good. Giants fans will always have the face of Lux between first and second, hands on his hips; Austin Barnes slamming his hand against the railing in disgust. We will always have Dave Roberts blaming the wind. How unfair it was: the wind.
Mike Tauchman and Santa Ana. Angels in the outfield.
Mike Tauchman robbed Albert Pujols of a walk-off homer. They'll head to the 10th. The last hour has been pretty wild. pic.twitter.com/Yag95sPq3z— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) May 29, 2021
If Tauchman does not make this catch, the Dodgers win the game.
If Tauchman does not make this catch, the Dodgers win the division.
If Tauchman doesn’t make this catch the San Francisco Giants don’t earn a wild card spot.
If Tauchman doesn’t make this catch, the Giants lose 90 games and Posey, Belt, Crawford are all gone by year’s end.
Yes, yes, yes ifs are dicey, but I really do believe that Tauchman’s play saved this team. If the Dodgers won that game, they’d have won their first five meetings against San Francisco. A four run ninth with a walk off run as the cherry is the definition of momentum. The rest of that weekend would be lost if the Giants went down Friday. Remember, at the time, that was the big question for the Giants. Sure they were playing well, but it was early in the year and had not been tested by the inter-divisional powerhouses. The Giants were just fingers dangling off the precipice, waiting for the Dodger cleat to bear down.
On May 28th, in the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers cleat was bearing down.
So Mike Tauchman’s robbery of Albert Pujols should not be lauded by the unbelievability that a catch was even made. Tauchman had made catches in his 64 games as a Giant with lower catch probabilities. He made a similar lead-preserving home run snag two weeks later. Pujols’s fly ball left his bat at 93 MPH, warranting zero (0) fire emojis from Statcast. The ball traveled 373 feet. The expected Batting Average of that batted ball was .190 (akin to the B.A. Tauchman ended his season with).
MIKE TAUCHMAN ROBS ANOTHER HOME RUN TO HOLD THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/jdTajefJRQ— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) June 12, 2021
The play should be lauded because of what it meant to this team and the fans who cheer them on. It was an act of defiance: a pissed off little kid climbing over the fence to get their ball from their much wealthier neighbor’s yard. It was a catch that told the baseball world that the Giants were going to stick around.
Going forward, it’s a play that deserves a definite article: the “The” title.
All the love and respect in the world to Willie Mays, but it’s not 1954 anymore. The Giants aren’t in New York. His catch was in the World Series, sure, but against Cleveland. Cleveland. Any Giants-Dodger game in any month of any year is inherently more important—a Giants victory no doubt sweeter—than an October match-up against Cleveland.
Ok, fine. The Catch is set in stone. I’m sorry I brought it up.
I’ll settle for “The Tauchman Takeaway.”