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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Shades of Junior? Kyle Lewis makes a leaping, grand-slam robbing catch in Mariners’ play of the year

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 15, 2020

Seattle Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis makes a leaping catch of a deep fly ball hit by Oakland Athletics' Ramon Laureano with two outs and the bases loaded during the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Seattle. The air at the ballpark was thick with smoke from wildfires. (Ted S. Warren)
Seattle Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis makes a leaping catch of a deep fly ball hit by Oakland Athletics' Ramon Laureano with two outs and the bases loaded during the first inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Seattle. The air at the ballpark was thick with smoke from wildfires. (Ted S. Warren)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

The adrenaline of what he’d done in the moment pulsed through his veins. And it was soon replaced by emotion that poured out of Kyle Lewis – excitement, happiness, accomplishment.

He needed to celebrate with his teammates. Did they just see what he did? They better not have missed it. He just ended a first inning that was spiraling out of control for starter Jimmy Yacabonis by robbing what seemed to be a sure grand slam from Ramon Laureano.

Off the bat, the ball rocketed toward the gap in deep left-center and seemed destined for the now vacant area of vapidness known as The ‘Pen.

But Lewis knew he had a bead on it as he tracked the ball toward the wall. He timed his two-footed leap perfectly and elevated higher than most normal baseball players, getting his glove four feet above the wall to make the grab.

“I knew I was gonna have a chance off the bat,” Lewis said in a video call after the Mariners lost Game 2 of a doubleheader, 9-0. They won Game 1 by a 6-5 score. “I feel like that on a lot of balls in that left-center gap, it gets pretty deep back there. I knew I was gonna have a chance if I could time it up, right. And I was able to get back there and time it up right.”

The pitchers in the Mariners’ bullpen erupted in celebration while the dugout could be heard screaming over the piped-in crowd noise.

“The catch that Kyle Lewis made was unbelievable,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said in a postgame video call. “Probably one of the best catches I’ve ever seen and with the bases loaded on top of it.”

With a wide smile plastered to his face and emitting screams of joy, Lewis started sprinting toward the Mariners’ dugout, his black and brown glove with ball in it raised in the air.

“Let’s go!” he screamed twice.

It was an unexpected outburst of emotion from the ultra-composed Lewis.

“We’re trying to win games, man,” Lewis said. “And after we won an emotional Game 1, to come back in the first inning and save four runs, that just was an overflow of emotion for me. Especially, you know, because I hadn’t been swinging the bat as good as I know I can. So to be able to make a defensive play was really just a big outpouring of emotion, really excited.”

In the midst of the sprinting, skipping, smiling and screaming, it brought back a familiar memory of a similar reaction from a Mariners outfielder, who now has his own statue in front of T-Mobile Park.

On April 26, 1990, a precocious kid named Ken Griffey Jr., playing in his second MLB season, made one of the most memorable catches in Mariners’ history, sprinting a massive distance to the wall, leaping off one leg, planting the other against the wall for added height and snatching a sure homer off the bat of Jesse Barfield out of the sky.

The unforgettable catch was an absurd display of Griffey’s athleticism and grace. But it’s the reaction of the 20-year-old Kid that provides the most lasting memory. With that trademark smile, Griffey started sprinting in from center field with the ball first raised in his glove and then his bare hand to greet his teammates. Griffey has said it was the first homer he’d ever robbed from someone and the reaction was pure elation over the achievement.

Monday, on Twitter and later on the Mariners video scoreboard at T-Mobile, the catches from Lewis and Griffey were played side-by-side. And while Griffey’s seems more difficult for the ground he had to cover to get to the wall and leaping at full speed, Lewis seemed to have jumped higher. Still, it’s the reactions that are so similar.

“Humbling comparison – a center fielder being able to make plays is just in and of itself a great moment,” Lewis said. “To be able to make plays is something I take pride in, especially wearing a Seattle uniform, because we know who the legend is out there.”

It’s not the first time Lewis has been associated with Griffey in his young Mariners career. He’s talked with the Hall of Famer often at spring training. And he understands the reverence held for Griffey in this city. But he can’t try to play to those comparisons.

“To go out there and make some plays is big for me, and I think hopefully I can just continue to build on that defensively, to be a solid, reliable defender and then as well as at the plate because that guy did it all,” he said. “It’s cool to see those comparisons, those things happen a lot. I just take them in stride and keep it going so I can continue to write my story. Everybody’s got their own story to write and I’ve got mine.”

While Lewis’ size, strength and athleticism allowed him to get to the wall so quickly and elevate so high on his leap, the catch is a product of hours of pregame work he’s put in with outfield coach Joe Thurston. Lewis is readjusting to center field after spending so much time in right field the past few seasons.

“I think I’m a whole lot better,” he said of his defense. “Just being able to read the ball when it’s coming toward the wall. I think early in the year I kind of undercut a couple and ended up having to reach a little bit more to the left or to the right. We’ve been working on that a lot, trying to time it with the walls, the angles of the walls and the way the ball comes down when it is that high up in the air. I’ve been getting better. I take a lot of pride in doing that.”

The catch was part of a big day for Lewis. He had hit a big two-run homer in the first game and then worked a bases-loaded walk to force across the game-winning run in his next at-bat.

The discipline to not be over-aggressive in that bases-loaded situation is a product of the games this season.

“It’s just learning in different situations,” he said. “Early in the year, sometimes I would homer early in a game and then get swing happy, get greedy and start chasing. I had it in the back of mind to reset it back down to square one – get a good pitch to hit. He had just walked Ty (France), so I definitely didn’t want to expand and give him some extra. I’m just trying to learn from each at-bat throughout the season, learn from the different times where I may have went up there with the wrong mindset.”

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