Nick Pivetta, mouth agape, looked out to center field Saturday night and shot his arms in the air. Jorge Alfaro, dejected a moment earlier, lifted his catcher's helmet and applauded. The fans at Citizens Bank Park sounded stunned before supplying an ovation.
It took a moment for everyone to realize what just happened, or even how it happened. Odubel Herrera reached into the bushes in the third inning of a 4-1 loss to the Braves and came out with one of the best catches of the year.
Herrera raced to the center-field wall as he tracked Freddie Freeman's deep fly ball. Herrera reached the wall and ran out of room. He scaled the fence, reached back his glove and brought back the would-be home run. Herrera's glove broke through the branches of the hedges that sit just past the wall. The glove disappeared in the bush and knocked off some leaves after Herrera yanked it free. It was 411 feet out. Herrera threw the ball to second base, listened to the applause, and smiled. Nick Williams glanced over from right field and nodded.
"I just kind of looked at him," Williams said. "That's how you're doing it now, all right."
The Phillies provided little threat Saturday and Herrera's defense provided all the thrills. Pivetta allowed four runs in five innings. The team's lone run came on a solo homer by Maikel Franco with the Phillies already down by four. And they played the final four innings without J.P. Crawford, who left with a strained right forearm.
"Oh, man. That was one of the best I've ever seen," Crawford said of Herrera's catch. "Probably one of the top ones that I've seen him make. I know he has a bunch, but that was awesome."
Herrera said he immediately knew he had a chance to catch the ball. The bushes, he said, were actually a help as they held his arm upright after the catch. His only fear was that a replay would show that the ball hit the branches before his glove. It did not. For the second straight night, Herrera provided the Phillies with a spark. He homered twice in Friday's comeback win. But his play Saturday would be wasted.
"What a tremendous play," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Incredible jump, timed up his jump perfectly, having his glove go into the bushes like that, you never know what's going to happen in that kind of situation. But more and more he just shows you how engaged he is, how dynamic he is, how athletic he is, and how invested he is in our baseball games. You see how emotional he is and we love that and we don't want to do anything but celebrate it."
The Braves tagged Pivetta for six hits, including a second-inning homer by Nick Markakis that was a bit out of reach for Herrera. Pivetta walked three and struck out six. It was the third time this season that he faced the Braves. Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan, Victor Arano, and Yacksel Rios combined for four scoreless innings of relief.
Franco's home run was his first since April 7. He went 2 for 4 and now has 10 hits in his last 30 at-bats. Pedro Florimon, who replaced Crawford, singled in the seventh to put two runners on before the rally ended with groundouts from Alfaro and Aaron Altherr. Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Santana reached in the eighth, but Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, and Williams went down in order. The Phillies could not find the big hit.
"It was nice to get down early and then come up three or four time in the game where we felt like we really had a chance to get that one big hit that would put us right back in it," Kapler said. "Every moment, we were thinking about who the bullpen would be if we tied the game, so we had that conversation just about every inning. You don't always get to do that. If we tie the game, who do we get to go to? That's the right kind of position you want to be in when you start the game from behind."
After Herrera threw the ball to the infield, the umpires decided they wanted to review the catch. Perhaps they, too, needed a moment to understand what happened. The replay flashed on the scoreboard and Herrera tilted his head to watch. The crowd's cheers grew louder and he smiled again. Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley raised his fist. Freeman gestured from the dugout. He, too, could not believe his home run had been caught. Herrera chirped back. But his moment did not come without some pain. He pointed afterward to scratches on his arms that he blamed on the branches. They were the markings of an improbable out.