BALTIMORE — Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier lives for these moments, when a baseball is soaring over the fence but he can use every bit of his athleticism, time his jump perfectly then commit the kind of larceny befitting his Outlaw nickname.
Kiermaier did exactly that to the first batter in the first inning of Monday's 6-3 win over the fading Orioles, robbing Manny Machado with a spectacular leap that will be seen on plenty of highlight shows as what he now considers to be his best catch.
"I felt like I got up there pretty good," Kiermaier said. "I think it just comes down to degree of difficulty. I had to time it perfectly right there to catch it at its highest point."
Rays manager Kevin Cash said it was one of the best he had ever witnessed: "If there's a better play you guys have seen, let me know what it is. That was incredible."
Unfortunately, Kiermaier didn't get to stick around and enjoy it after spraining his right ankle on the play. He came down hard on the ankle and, after getting it taped, felt bad enough to leave the game after batting in the third. X-rays were negative, though there may be some bone bruising in addition to what the Rays say is a mild sprain. Kiermaier said he was "not too worried" and hopes to play tonight.
While Kiermaier's catch was the unrivaled highlight, the Rays did some other things worth noting in improving to 65-66 and at least holding ground in the American League wild-card chase, starting the day 4½ out.
Chris Archer worked six innings, albeit throwing 117 pitches, to pick up his 12th win while logging his AL-leading and team-record 10th start without allowing an earned run.
"Archer was good," Cash said. "Obviously he was struggling a little bit to get command. He had a lot of 3-2 counts, a lot of five-, six-pitch at-bats to drive his pitch count up. It seemed like he really found his groove around 80 pitches.
"But we're not going to nitpick. He gave us six innings with no runs, that's pretty outstanding."
The offense came via power.
Asdrubal Cabrera had the biggest hit, a two-run homer that turned a 1-0 lead into 3-0 in the fourth. Evan Longoria (his 15th on the season, 199th career) and Tim Beckham had solo shots. Logan Forsythe had three hits.
And both Longoria and Butler made impressive plays early, but also errors.
With his parents and other close friends in the stands after making the drive from their North Carolina home, Archer showed his mettle in battling through the early innings. His biggest moment was striking out Gerardo Parra with the bases loaded to end the fourth on his 92nd pitch. Better, he came back to get the shorthanded bullpen, through another two innings with just 21 pitches. After Matt Andriese gave up three runs in the seventh, Alex Colome and Brad Boxberger, with his AL-leading 33rd save, finished.
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Eyeing the outfielder-friendly 7-foot walls at Camden Yards, Kiermaier spoke before the game of the opportunity to rob a home run then noted the irony afterward that he did.
When Archer got to the clubhouse, he hugged Kiermaier: "I was very, very happy that he made that play."