Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays embrace a little flash from Escobar

BOSTON — The dazzling play Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar made Wednesday night against the Red Sox looked amazing enough from afar.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist had an even better view.

"The most impressive thing," Zobrist said Thursday, "was how easy he made it look."

Escobar went to his left to snare Dustin Pedroia's grounder, then flipped it in one smooth motion behind his back directly from his glove to Zobrist to start a double play. He said it was the kind of play that just happens.

"I don't plan on doing stuff like that," he said, with bench coach Dave Martinez interpreting. "It's just kind of a reaction play. I'm just glad Zobrist was ready."

Zobrist said he wasn't sure what to expect as the play, which was No. 1 on ESPN's SportsCenter "Top Plays" and an Internet attraction Thursday, unfolded.

"I was definitely surprised," he said. "You don't expect somebody to go behind their back in a game. Maybe in batting practice to play around. But it was smooth and easy and perfect."

Actually, Zobrist acknowledged later, he probably shouldn't have been that surprised.

"Just playing around, he did a lot of that in spring training," Zobrist said. "You just kind of know he's that kind of player and likes to be creative out in the field. So I was kind of expecting something with a glove flip or something to that effect. But it went around the back and was perfect, and that's what I didn't expect."

Escobar has been making a good impression for a while now, setting a Rays record with 53 consecutive error-free games until an errant throw Tuesday. He has only five errors total.

Manager Joe Maddon said he knew Escobar was good defensively when the Rays landed him in a winter trade from the Marlins, who had taken him back in their salary dump deal with the Blue Jays. But Maddon said Escobar has exceeded what he first thought.

"Maybe even a little bit better possibly or probably," Maddon said. "The mistakes that he had made in the past that I saw were really on the routine play, not even as much on anything difficult to his right or his left. Right now the routine play is hit at him, and I know you've noticed, poommm, in the chest at first base."

Escobar came with a reputation, among other things, for being flashy at times. But Maddon said he felt it was important to not say or do anything to limit Escobar's creativity.

"I really believe when you try to restrict a player like that, give him too many thoughts, you're going to take away that play you saw (Wednesday) night," Maddon said.

Overall, the Rays have had nothing but good experiences with Escobar and great things to say about him.

"I think in the beginning, regardless of how we were and how it is in spring training there was still that thing in the back of his mind that this may change if I'm not playing well," Maddon said. "In the beginning (of the season) he did struggle and we stayed with him and nothing did change. I think he finally realized if you do have a bad game or two, nothing's going to change."

Escobar said he likes playing for the Rays, and he likes winning.

Also, "I love to put on a show. That's the fun of me playing the game."

Actually, Maddon said, Escobar has changed Zobrist, who has become a little flashier playing alongside him.

"He's definitely had a great influence on Zobrist," Maddon said. "Zobrist looks like he's from Havana right now himself. The plays he's making up the middle are spectacular. Zobrist has definitely added some chrome."

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