When it comes to Oakland A’s baseball, the gold standard of defense is set by third baseman Matt Chapman. He’s the best defender in the entire sport, and he makes plays we’ve never seen before. On Saturday, however, one of his rookie teammates stole the show.
We’d already had a glimpse of Ramon Laureano in center field. In his MLB debut a week prior, he made a couple of impressive catches and an eye-opening throw to nail a runner. The next day he threw out another runner, making him the first player in Oakland A’s history ever to notch an outfield assist in each of his first two career games. His 60-grade arm had long been billed as his top tool, unless his 60-grade speed was even better, and within just a couple days we’d seen both on display making a difference.
All of that was nothing compared with what he did on Saturday, though. With a runner on first base and one out, Justin Upton drilled a liner into the gap in left-center. It looked for all the world like an RBI double, but instead this happened.
You'll fall in love with Ramón Laureano's speed, but you'll want to marry Ramón Laureano's arm. W O W ! pic.twitter.com/3dRaPkL249— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) August 12, 2018
That’s two of the best plays of the year, combined into one sequence. Laureano raced over to make an incredible catch, stopped, set himself, and uncorked one of the best throws you’ll ever see to double up the runner at first. Let’s take a closer look!
If Laureano had only caught the ball, it would have been one of the better grabs we’ve seen an Oakland outfielder make this season. Statcast put it at a 42% chance of being caught based on the ball’s trajectory and the 76 feet he sprinted to get there, calling it a 4-star catch on their 5-star rating system. Even that probably sells it short, since it’s giving no extra credit for the fact that he caught it on his feet without diving. Staying upright proved to be critically important to this particular play, since it allowed him to do even more damage with his throw.
And my goodness, that throw. Statcast pegged it at 321 feet, in the air, directly into the waiting glove of his first baseman. Here’s another angle to help illustrate how far it went, while traveling 91.2 mph.
Leaving this here to remind ourselves that Ramón Laureano's glove and right arm belong in a museum pic.twitter.com/UwqWgs66i4— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 12, 2018
Ramón Laureano’s got a hose. pic.twitter.com/TnAZEgfSYZ— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) August 12, 2018
His teammates were as shocked as anybody.
Canha on when he saw Laureano gathering to throw: “I was wondering what the hell he was doing.” Said the fact that the ball reached him on the money like that shocked him.— Julian McWilliams (@JulianMack105) August 12, 2018
Melvin says dugout was in disbelief over Laureano’s throw. “You’re just hoping he hits one of the first three cutoff men,” he jokes. Compares it to Cespedes’ amazing throw here in 2014.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) August 12, 2018
Captions can't do it justice, but some reaction Gifs can pic.twitter.com/OnDhgnZXT9— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 12, 2018
Notice Dallas Braden in the background of that last one, looking like we all felt.
The play of the year was just made in Anaheim & I’m LOSING MY MIND! HOLY HELL Ramon Laureano! He tracked a ball to the track that was a sure 2B & then proceeded to unleash a throw on the fly to double up the runner at 1st. I’m mystified right now.— Dallas Braden (@DALLASBRADEN209) August 12, 2018
Here’s the best reaction of the night, though. Nick Martini demonstrates the perfect balance of amazement, joy, and disbelief, all while a young Angels fan behind him recounts all the decisions in his life that led him to become a fan of the wrong team.
#AnotherOne pic.twitter.com/7Hb4JSSZmd— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) August 12, 2018
Some perspective behind the throw.
Ramon Laureano's throw was 97.84 meters. The world record in the javelin throw is 98.48 meters.— Ken Arneson (@kenarneson) August 12, 2018
Of course, any A’s fan will immediately be reminded of the throw Yoenis Cespedes made in this same Anaheim stadium back in 2014. That one was preceded by a defensive miscue that goaded the runner into hunting for an extra base, but it still went down as one of the best throws we’ve ever seen and might end up as the iconic highlight of Cespedes’ dynamic career. Laureano’s was every bit as impressive, and possibly even slightly better.
The @Athletics are just a throw from the right-field scoreboard away from completing Angel Stadium Outfield Bingo after Ramon Laureano's nonsense tonight. Just wow. Also pictured: Yoenis being Yoenis in 2014. via @Cut4: https://t.co/esb9tuiEQ1 pic.twitter.com/KvONohVBCC— Adrian Garro (@adriangarro) August 12, 2018
After three seasons of being one of the worst defensive teams in baseball, the 2018 A’s have turned things around in a hurry. They have the best 3B, the best 1B, and solid gloves filling in the other positions. Now it’s starting to look like they’ve found not just an acceptable option for CF, but maybe a downright stud.
Laureano: “I saw [the cutoff men] and I’m like, I’m just gonna throw it.— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) August 12, 2018
“I should’ve hit my cutoff man.”