But ever since Dewayne Wise(notes) came down with that spectacular grab in Mark Buehrle's(notes) perfect game last Thursday, I've been thinking about where it would rank on a list of recent defensive plays. Was it in the top 10 of the decade? Top five? The best overall?
Yes, it's jumping the gun a bit, but for the past week, I've run the question by a decent amount of baseball fans and asked them their thoughts on the best defensive plays of the 'Aughts. What follows is a collection of the top 10 moments from my informed view with a majority of the plays combining both skill and historical impact.
(Don't be fooled, though. Some plays were just too awesome to not include just because they took place during a regular-season game.)
It was a tough job and some good candidates like Reed Johnson's(notes) diving grab in D.C. last season and Juan Uribe's(notes) leap into the stands at the end of the 2005 World Series and any of the four unassisted triple plays during the decade were left out. But at the end, these were the 10 plays that I remember most. If you're so inclined, feel free to make your own suggestions or rankings in the comment section below. (Maybe we can make another list.)
10. Willy Taveras leaps for Tony Clark's drive, 2007 NLCS Game 2
It came in the league championship series that no one outside of Colorado or Arizona watched, but Taveras' catch was worthy of a much larger audience. Our own Jeff Passan counted 125 steps in the five seconds it took for Taveras to run down Tony Clark's(notes) attempt at a double and it was the talk of Colorado's 3-2 victory the next day.
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9. Rick Ankiel throws out two Rockies at third, May 2008
This list wouldn't be complete without some long-range bombs and Rick Ankiel(notes) provided not one, but two memorable throws to Troy Glaus(notes) (above) against Colorado last season. Neither putout at third ever bounced and both were Internet sensations by the next morning.
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8. Aaron Rowand breaks nose running into outfield wall, May 2006
Aaron Rowand(notes) had already become a cult hero in Chicago for his fearlessness in the outfield and it didn't take long to ingratiate himself to Phillies fans after being traded for Jim Thome(notes). After successfully capturing a long fly ball from the Mets' Xavier Nady(notes), Rowand had no time to slow down and performed a face plant for the ages, breaking his schnozz in the process.
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7. Jeff Conine nails J.T. Snow at home with help of Pudge, 2003 NLDS Game 4
This might be a bigger moment if it involved any team but Florida, yet you can't help but admire the throw from left field by Jeff Conine(notes) (aka "Mr. Marlin). The assist, caught by a rock solid Ivan Rodriguez(notes), stopped J.T. Snow(notes) from scoring, gave the Marlins a 7-6 victory and ended the Giants' hopes of returning to the World Series. It was the only time in postseason history that a series ended with a putout at the plate.
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6. Jim Edmonds robs Brad Ausmus, 2004 NLCS Game 7
Because this came early in the game and because Edmonds made a career of similar amazing catches, I'm probably not ranking this high as it deserves to be. Still, Edmonds' second-inning dive kept the Astros' lead at a manageable one run and eventually paved the way for a 5-2 Cardinals win (allowing the team to be swept by Boston in the World Series, but I suppose that's really beside the point).
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5. Torii Hunter breaks up Barry Bonds' moment, 2002 All-Star Game
Several current All-Stars just named Torii Hunter's(notes) theft of a would-be Barry Bonds(notes) home run as their favorite All-Star moment, but don't forget that it had plenty of historical implications despite occurring during an exhibition. If Hunter fails to make this catch in the first inning at Miller Park, it's quite possible that the game doesn't end in a tie and the Midsummer Classic remains a fun midseason exhibition instead of a World Series homefield advantage decider.
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4. Gary Matthews Jr. steals one from Mike Lamb, July 2006
Matthews' catch didn't record any universal significance outside of a game played between the Astros and Rangers, but it was probably the most difficult feat to pull off. Show this one to an audience 30 years from now and it'll still earn 10s across the board.
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3. Endy Chavez foils Scott Rolen at wall, 2006 NLCS Game 7
It's been almost three years and I still can't believe Endy Chavez(notes) brought back that home run from Scott Rolen(notes) to double Jim Edmonds(notes) off first base in the sixth inning of Game 7. The play's ranking is hurt somewhat by the game's final result — a Cardinals victory and World Series berth — but my appreciation for Chavez's unreal leap remains undamaged.
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2. Dewayne Wise preserves Mark Buehrle's perfect game, July 2009
It's only been five days and I still can't believe Dewayne Wise came back with Gabe Kapler's(notes) drive to keep Mark Buehrle's perfect game intact. Wise's catch was the right combination of athletic feat and impact to rank near the front of this list. If he doesn't make it, you're probably not reading this list right now.
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1. Derek Jeter flips ball to nab Jeremy Giambi at the plate, 2001 ALDS
A lot of the proverbial "haters" will point to this seventh-inning play as an example of simple overhype because it happened to a player on a New York team, but it's impossible to deny its total impact. Not only did it seal Jeter's reputation as a Yankee legend, it also helped preserve the Yankees' final 1-0 margin in a game in which the Bombers faced elimination.
If Jeter doesn't make this play, it's quite possible that the 2001 World Series — not only the best of this decade, but one of the best ever — never comes to be.
- Dewayne Wise