The first thing that came to Tony La Russa's mind when asked to describe Luis Robert's defense in center field?
"Gazelle," the South Side skipper said.
Who knows how that will sit with the man known as "La Pantera." Whether a predator like a panther would bristle at being described as prey is for the animal behaviorists to figure out.
But indeed, Robert often looks even faster, more graceful, than his namesake when doing his thing out in center, the kind of thing that earned him a Gold Glove at the close of his rookie season. The way he covers ground out there became legendary among Chicago White Sox fans, who went meme crazy when he stepped in front of a scowling Eloy Jiménez last summer. His diving catch in Kansas City was jaw-dropping, and that got a sequel in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"He's got the stride where he eats up ground. He's just gliding along, and all of a sudden, you look where he started and where he got to, 'Man, he's fast,'" La Russa said. "He really runs so beautifully that it really doesn't look like he covers much ground or is working as hard, but he is. Then he's got the other stuff. It's not just about, 'Are you fast?' It's his judgment. He reads the ball in, out, left, right, back. So, Gold Glover."
"They guy is unreal out there," White Sox reliever Michael Kopech said. "It seems like he was kind of built in a lab a lot of times."
Robert's athleticism has inspired all sorts of wild hyperbole over the years, from Jiménez calling Robert the next Mike Trout to La Russa passing on that Frank Thomas dubbed Robert a "six-tool player" in the spring. In practice, that incredible ability is an incomparable arrow in the White Sox' quiver as they chase a championship in 2021 and the years beyond.
Robert already showed off the kind of impact he can have in the postseason last fall, when he crushed a ridiculous 487-foot moonshot of a homer at the Coliseum in Oakland. This fall, the White Sox are of course hoping he'll have more than three days to show off.
If they do, Robert is the kind of talent who could become an October hero. He's been on fire since returning from his months-long recovery from a torn hip flexor suffered in early May, with a .361/.402/.639 slash line to go along with five home runs in 17 games.
"We talked about the guys who were getting guys ready (during rehab assignments), like when you go to Triple-A and work with Chris (Johnson, hitting coach) and Wes (Helms, manager). They've been bragging on him right along, how he was on pitches and taking good swings. That's what he's doing here," La Russa said a couple weeks ago. "He's got a real good strike zone, and when he gets the ball on the barrel, it jumps. ... We didn't need a reminder how much we missed him for all those months, but we got it."
"He's really good," Jiménez said before Tuesday's game. "He works hard here every day. ... Last year he didn't have too much patience. But this year he looked better at the plate because he has more patience."
It's easy to forget Robert has still yet to play his 100th game as a big leaguer. It's even easier, at times, to forget that he's human and can have off nights like the 0-for-4 he turned in subbing for Tim Anderson in the leadoff spot Tuesday. It's easy to forget that, of course, because he can impact the game in so many ways. Going oh-fer is not that big a deal when he goes Superman with another eye-popping diving snag in center.
Catches like that — and ones less likely to earn emoji reactions on social media but still involving the same type of ridiculous athletic ability — are the types of plays that make the difference in playoff games. Robert, whether swinging the bat, flashing the glove or burning up the base paths, can win a big game for the White Sox.
The South Siders, of course, have no shortage of guys who can do that. Anderson, Jiménez, José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada all have game-changing ability. Robert, though, seemingly has it several times over.
He's more than a human highlight reel. He could be the difference between a lengthy October run and going home early.
So how's he progressing on his way to being the next Trout?
"You guys can see I don't lie," Jiménez said.