James Shields experienced the gamut of emotions when Aaron Judge’s fifth-inning fly ball to deep left field temporarily disappeared on Thursday night.
The veteran pitcher went from pop out to close call to no way to sweet relief before he even had time to take a breath. Shields owes it all to the latest round of theatrics on the diamond by White Sox teammate Melky Cabrera. The catch was one of several banner plays turned in by the White Sox defense in a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday night, including two by Cabrera, who also threw out a runner to end the fourth inning.
“When I threw it Judge kind of slammed his bat a little bit so I figured it was a pop fly,” Shields said. “And I looked back and (Cabrera) caught it and I actually thought it was a home run because he didn’t show the ball quite right away.”
“It was a great catch.”
It also was a great gag.
Shields initially saw the reaction of America’s hottest slugger and was ready to move on to the next batter. Based upon the reaction, Shields believed Judge didn’t get enough of the ball for his 28th home run. Then Shields realized that Judge’s fly ball wasn’t as much of a pop up as he first thought. To top it off, Cabrera leapt near the left-field fence and then landed as if he hadn’t caught the ball. Cabrera’s theatric turn took it a step further as he turned to look at the fence and fans in the bleachers as if he didn’t have a clue where the ball was.
But much to the delight of White Sox relievers in the bullpen below and Shields on the mound, Cabrera suddenly revealed he had the ball.
“I know he held onto it a little bit and kind of played it for a little while until he showed it,” manager Rick Renteria said.
Cabrera’s theatrics have become par for the course in the White Sox clubhouse. The veteran is one of the team’s most popular players because of the entertainment value he provides on the field and off it. Whether routine or spectacular, you never know what you’ll get when Cabrera catches a fly ball. But his comic timing proved even more astute on Thursday night given it was Judge at the plate in a tight ballgame.
“That was just the way that it goes,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t planning to do it. It was just the reaction in that moment.”
Cabrera also had another spectacular moment to end the fourth inning. He quickly retrieved Ronald Torreyes’ drive to deep left field with two aboard and two outs and fired a perfect strike to second base in time to throw out Torreyes. While the tying run scored on Torreyes’ hit, Shields escaped a potentially damaging rally.
Shields, who earned the win and allowed three runs (two earned) and five hits with three walks, credited his defense for playing a big part as he pitched a season-best 6 1/3 innings.
So even though Cabrera temporarily messed with his emotions in the fifth, Shields chuckled about it afterward.
“That’s Melky, man,” Shields said. “He likes to have fun in this game, but he plays the game hard. It was a great catch.”