SAN DIEGO — The catch, or maybe the Catch, is the play you are going to see over and over again on TV and across the Internet, certainly on T-shirts. And, the way things are going for the Rays, possibly in World Series preview video.
Manuel Margot raced from his spot in rightfield toward the foul line, leaped to make the catch and flipped headfirst over the wall, hanging on to the ball for the final out of the second inning.
But that wasn’t the play Margot enjoyed most from the Rays' tense 4-2 win over the Astros on Monday afternoon that gave them a two-games-to-none lead in the American League Championship Series.
He preferred the three-run homer he hit a few minutes earlier, the one that took advantage of the throwing error by All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve to prolong the bottom of the first inning and get Margot to the plate. The one that gave the Rays the early led they rode to the Game 2 win.
“Definitely the home run,” said Margot, via team translator Manny Navarro. “The home run didn’t hurt.”
The catch did a bit. Margot, who played the previous three-plus seasons for the Padres but primarily in centerfield, didn’t think about the consequences until he went over the five-foot-or-so wall that has a ramped pathway on the other side.
“It gets a little lower once you go over the wall,” Margot said. “Once I actually started to flip and realized it was a little bit further of a drop, that’s when I kind of got a little scared.”
Margot was checked immediately by manager Kevin Cash and head athletic trainer Joe Benge, and walked back to the dugout with a slight limp, but he turned out to be all right.
And so were the Rays by the end of the afternoon, taking a commanding lead in the series, with Game 3 at 8:40 Tuesday night.
Veteran Charlie Morton navigated his way through five solid innings to win a fourth straight postseason decision allowing one or no earned runs. There was dazzling defense all around the infield. Mike Zunino added some needed cushion with a home run in the seventh.
And the bullpen came through again. Nick Anderson, however, made it a little bit too exciting going into the ninth with a three-run lead, allowing three straight singles, then after a run-scoring double play, two walks before finally getting Alex Bregman to line out to end it.
“That,” Cash said, “was tense.”
Margot’s homer was the key to the win, as the Rays didn’t get many other opportunities against McCullers, the Tampa native who Cash said was “filthy” during his seven innings.
Among the many feel-good stories around the Rays, one of the feel-greatest is Margot. Traded unexpectedly to the Rays in February, he dealt with two personal traumas on either side of the three-month pandemic shutdown he spent living with shortstop Willy Adames.
Margot revealed Monday that during the first spring training in Port Charlotte, he, his wife and three kids were in a rental car that “exploded” and caught fire and bystanders helped pull his kids to safety.
“Luckily I’m able to here to tell you guys about it,” Margot said.
More well-known was that in August Margot’s father Emmanuel, who played a huge role in his career and talked with him after game, died in their native Dominican Republic after an extended battle with COVID-19.
“Obviously my dad passing away during the season was also very tough,” Margot said. “You’ve got to stay positive, you’ve got to find a way to move on.”
Margot, 26, has channeled that emotion into his play.
From the day after he rejoined the team after attending his father’s funeral, he hit .321 with his lone regular-season home run and a .785 OPS in 36 games, compared to .100 and .352 in the 10 before. In the postseason, he has been clutch, hitting home runs in each round.
“Special for him,” Cash said. “Really special. That means a lot. Family guy, and he’s been put through the wringer, along with other family members. But we’ve turned him into our family, and everybody’s really supportive of him. And just so happy for what he’s accomplishing.”
And that includes Adames, even though he ended up doing most of the cooking for Margot during the quarantine.
"I’m just really, really, really happy for him. I hope he continues to help the team to win like that,'' Adames said. “He’s amazing. You know he can do it all on the field. And off the field he’s one of the greatest teammates we have on the team. … He’s an unbelievable person. He’s just such a humble kid and he works hard.”
As for the catch?
“Amazing. I mean, what can I tell you man? You saw yourself,” Adames said. “I hope they make a T-shirt off that. It would be kind dope if they made a T-shirt off that. That was unbelievable. Incredible.”