ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has seen many great catches over the course of his more than three decades in professional baseball.
But the diving snow-cone grab by rookie Desmond Jennings on the warning track in the fifth inning of Monday's 5-2 win over the Yankees was tough to top.
"One of the best I've seen," Maddon said.
With the Rays clinging to a two-run lead, Yankees captain Derek Jeter led off the inning with a long fly to left-center. Jennings, a former Alabama receiver recruit, raced to the warning track — Maddon estimated he ran about 40-50 yards — laid out and snagged it as he hit the track, with the ball nearly popping out of the end of his glove.
"Player of the game, as far as I'm concerned," starter James Shields said. "That's probably one of the best catches I've ever seen. That's a game-changer."
Jennings said that after his first couple steps, he didn't think he'd be able to get to it.
"But it stayed in the air longer than I thought," he said. "The closer it got, the more I believed I could get it. Leading off the inning, that'd be a double or a triple. I just laid out and squeezed it as tight as I could, and it stayed."
Maddon said he thought back to a catch former Angels outfielder Darin Erstad made at the old Yankee Stadium years ago.
"I think Desmond had to run farther to get to the ball and really had to lay out on a hard surface, which makes it even worse," Maddon said. "His football training came in very well right there."
Centerfielder B.J. Upton, who has made his share of spectacular catches at Tropicana Field over the years, said he knew it'd be a tough play, "especially in that part of the ballpark."
"But he's got great speed," Upton said. "That's one of the best catches I've seen."
Said shortstop Reid Brignac: "Any time the ball is in the air, with him and B.J. in the outfield, if it's not leaving the park, it's a pretty good chance he's going to catch it."
Jennings has dazzled since his mid July callup with his blend of speed and power. But on Monday, his glove stole the show.
"He's been an unbelievable player since he got called up," Evan Longoria said. "That was probably the biggest play of his career right there."