MIAMI – For the first review of Randy Arozarena’s latest and perhaps greatest feat, we consult the gold standard of World Baseball Classic robberies, the retired outfielder, Adam Jones.
“That catch was amazing,” Jones said Friday night in a text message. “It’s all about situation. And what a massive one in an unfamiliar big-ass outfield. He saved a run from scoring.”
Saved the tying run from scoring, with a runner on first and one out in the eighth inning of the Mexico-Puerto Rico WBC quarterfinal at loanDepot Park. The runner, MJ Melendez, was attempting to steal. He had rounded second base. Yes, he was going to score on Emmanuel Rivera’s drive to left-center.
But Arozarena — Mr. March, Mr. October, Mr. Mexico, take your pick — had other ideas. He raced from left field toward the wall in left-center, leaped just in front of the fence and then …
RANDY AT THE WALL!
What a grab 🤯🇲🇽
📺: WBC on FS1 pic.twitter.com/EgYLlEBC8D
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) March 18, 2023
“That was better than any home run I’ve ever hit in the big leagues,” Arozarena told me in his postgame interview on FS1, with Danny Sánchez interpreting. “That was better than the home run I hit in the World Series. That catch was the best.”
Actually Arozarena hit three home runs in the 2020 World Series and a record 10 that postseason, but forgive him for losing track. Team Mexico manager Benji Gil, amid the pandemonium of a 5-4 triumph that sent his country to the WBC semifinals for the first time, made an even grander comparison.
“Randy Arozarena’s catch,” Gil said, according to Venezuelan reporter Efraín Zavarce, “has to be the most important play in the history of Mexican sports.”
Our friends south of the border can debate Gil’s pronouncement, but there was no debating the importance of Arozarena’s catch to Team Mexico’s latest stirring WBC triumph, which included a comeback from a 4-0 deficit in the first inning and advanced the team to a showdown with Japan on Monday.
Arozarena, 28, is everything everywhere all at once. He nearly doubled off Melendez, who scrambled back to first, then celebrated his catch by sticking out his tongue and spreading his arms wide.
Rivera, who crushed an 84-mph slider from Jake Sanchez after running the count to 3-2 in a terrific at-bat, reacted slightly differently. He slammed his helmet twice on the ground with both hands, slammed it once more in the dugout and pounded a padded railing for good measure.
Team Puerto Rico, trying to win for their injured brother, reliever Edwin Díaz, was not finished. Javier Báez hit a single to advance Melendez to third with two outs, but Sanchez popped up Eddie Rosario. Puerto Rico then rallied again with two singles off Giovanny Gallegos in the ninth, but Enriqué Hernández took a called third strike to end the game.
Arozarena said he has been working on his defense, his steps when tracking flyballs. But Team Mexico second baseman Luis Urías, covering second as Melendez attempted to steal, did not think Arozarena would catch Rivera’s towering shot.
“No way. No chance,” Urías said. “When I saw the contact, I was like, it’s going to be hard. I thought it was going to be out of the yard. Then when I saw Randy make the catch, I just got excited.
“I asked him, how did you do it? He was like, ‘I never give up. I thought that was gone, but I never give up.’”
Arozarena’s cowboy boots, his crossed-arms celebration, his enthusiastic interactions with fans — they have all come as a surprise to Rodrigo Lopez, Team Mexico’s GM. Lopez said when he initially spoke to Arozarena about playing for the team, the outfielder came off as introverted, shy.
“He’s super quiet but high energy,” Team Mexico pitcher Taijuan Walker said. “It makes no sense.”
Former major-league pitcher Jorge Campillo, who is part of Team Mexico’s front office, vouched for Arozarena. Campillo knew the player and the person. He was GM of the Tijuana Toros, one of two Mexican League teams Arozarena called his own after fleeing Cuba on a small boat and settling in Mexico in 2015.
The Cardinals signed Arozarena out of Mexico in Aug. 2016. He reached the majors three years later. But that offseason, the Cardinals sent him to the Rays in a six-player trade that brought them left-hander Matthew Liberatore, the Cardinals’ No. 5 prospect according to The Athletic’s Keith Law. Liberatore, 23, made his debut last season and produced a 5.97 ERA in…
Read More: Rosenthal: Randy Arozarena grabs Mexico a spot in WBC semifinals — ‘That catch