Ranking Hunter Renfroe's best outfield assists from his first season with Red Sox

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Tomase: Ranking Hunter Renfroe's best throws from 2021 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Hunter Renfroe eliminates opposing baserunners like the Terminator hunting Sarah Connor, but even by that relentless standard, what he did on Wednesday night was something else.

His two-run homer had just erased a 1-0 deficit in the eighth when the Rays appeared poised to break Red Sox hearts again on Joey Wendle's sinking liner to center with two outs in the ninth.

Center fielder Danny Santana got caught on an in-between dive, but Renfroe was there to back up the play, launching a missile to third that erased Wendle for Renfroe's second assist of the night, 16th of the season, and most importantly, the final out of a desperately needed 2-1 victory that vaulted the Red Sox back into the wild card lead over the Yankees.

"It was a huge play," said manager Alex Cora. "I mean, big swing, big throw. What he's done for us this season, it's been amazing. It was fun to watch."

It also leads to a question -- where does it rank among Renfroe's best throws of 2021? His 16 assists from right field are a new team record, breaking Dwight Evans's 1979 mark of 15. He has cut down runners at second, third, and home, but none were bigger than Wednesday's, right?

Let's rank them, from No. 16 to No. 1. 

16: Even the great ones get lucky

Date: June 1 vs. Astros

So if there's an entry on this list that Renfroe probably didn't deserve, it's this one. Houston's Kyle Tucker lined one into the right field corner for a standup double, but when Renfroe lobbed the ball back into the infield, Tucker took off for third. An alert Bogaerts erased him by mere inches as he slid into the bag, giving Renfroe a mildly dubious assist. When you've thrown out as many runners as Renfroe, though, you're bound to steal a cheapie.

15: Exploiting a mental lapse

Date: June 24 vs. Rays

This easily goes down as Renfroe's weirdest assist. Tampa's Brandon Lowe was running with the pitch and lost Randy Arozarena's lazy fly ball to right. He retreated to first as Renfroe secured the catch, forgetting to retouch second base on his way back to the bag. Renfroe nonchalantly tossed the ball back to the infield, where the Red Sox successfully erased Lowe on what became a 9-6-5 double play. 

14: Simple double play

Date: April 30 vs. Rangers

This was one of the easiest throws of the year for Renfroe, who tracked down a Brock Holt drive in the right field corner in Texas before whirling and firing to second, where David Dahl had lost track of the outs and wasn't even in the picture when shortstop Xander Bogaerts stepped on the bag for the inning-ending double play. 

13: Carbon copy

Date: May 7 vs. Orioles

A very similar play, except this time with no outs. Trey Mancini lined sharply to Renfroe, and for whatever reason, Orioles All-Star Cedric Mullins took off. Renfroe's flip back to the infield wasn't even accurate, sailing over the head of Xander Bogaerts, but it didn't matter. Rafael Devers was backing him up and calmly underhanded to second for another easy twin killing.

12: Let's start nice and easy

Date: April 2 vs. Orioles

Renfroe's record-setting season got off to a relatively nondescript start. On Opening Day, he slightly bobbled Anthony Santander's RBI single, eliminating any chance to throw out the speedy Cedric Mullins at home. So he instead smartly threw behind Trey Mancini, hung up between second and third. Bogaerts started a rundown that ended with Devers tagging out Santander at second. Who knew such humble beginnings would lay the groundwork for a potential Gold Glove campaign?

11: Exploiting bad baserunning

Date: June 22 vs. Rays

The Rays may be one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the game, but they're not immune to the occasional brain cramp. Case in point: Yandy Diaz trying to stretch a double to right-center into a triple with two outs in the second inning. Like Wednesday's game-saver, Renfroe backed up a diving Santana, this time hitting Bogaerts for the easy relay to erase Diaz at third. 

10: Nearly turned two

Date: July 30 vs. Rays

The Red Sox already trailed 7-3 when Diaz tagged a Hirokazu Sawamura offering to deep right, where it one-hopped the fence. Renfroe didn't try to be a hero as he barehanded the ball, instead firing to Bogaerts as Diaz slid safely into second. An alert Bogaerts, however, recognized that Austin Meadows was lumbering around third and erased him at home for the 9-6-2 putout.

 9: A catcher? No chance

Date: May 13 vs. A's

The Red Sox were cruising with an 8-0 lead vs. the A's when Mark Canha smoked one to the gap with catcher Sean Murphy on first. You could already see Murphy running out of gas as he rounded third, and Renfroe's strong relay allowed Jonathan Arauz to erase the lead-footed backstop at the plate.

8: Replay to the rescue

Date: Aug. 14 vs. Orioles

Renfroe occasionally gets himself into trouble making throws with a low probability of success, and this was certainly one of them. Baltimore's Richie Martin appeared to easily go first-to-third on a soft single to right vs. Chris Sale, but Renfroe came up firing anyway. Martin slid in barely -- but clearly -- ahead of the throw, which had no business even being that close. However, upon review, Martin's foot came off the bag while completing his slide, and since Devers kept the tag applied, Renfroe earned another assist.

7: An ill-advised challenge

Date: Aug. 1 vs. Rays

Baseball fans know what a double looks like, and Nelson Cruz's line shot into the right field corner certainly seemed to qualify. Even with the 40-year-old running and Renfroe hustling, it seemed unlikely when he fired that there'd be a play at second, especially after the ball kicked off the short wall in Tampa's right field. Guess again. Renfroe not only nailed Cruz, it wasn't even close. 

6: Appetizer before main course

Date: Sept. 8 vs. Rays

This easily would've been the play of the night if not for the big finish. The speedy Manuel Margot unfurled a limp birthday streamer into no-man's land between first base and the box seats in short right field, busting it out of the box. Renfroe fielded the ball with his back to first and then turned and threw a strike to second, erasing the sliding outfielder on a close play. The throw needed to be perfect, and it was. 

5. Winning battle with Acuna

Date: June 16 vs. Braves

The Renfroe-Bogaerts pairing has been prolific. The Red Sox were in the process of trying not to blow a big lead vs. the Braves when Acuna banged an Adam Ottavino offering off the fence in right. Renfroe chased down the carom and fired to Bogaerts, who thought briefly of throwing home before rifling out one of the National League's most exciting players as Acuna tried for a triple. The Red Sox held on to win, 10-8. 

4: Erasing Urshela

Date: June 25 vs. Yankees

With the Red Sox clinging to a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning, Yankees infielder Gio Urshela made two mistakes. First, he challenged Renfroe from second on a clean single to right. Second, he turned and looked into the outfield as he rounded third, slowing up for a half second that proved fatal. Renfroe's throw was a little up the third base line, but it carried catcher Christian Vazquez right into Urshela's path, helping the Red Sox hold on for a 5-3 victory. 

3: Nice try, Alex Bregman

Date: June 9 vs. Astros

The Astros live by the credo of making the opponent beat them, and on this occasion, Renfroe was up to the challenge. In the first inning of a scoreless game, he cleanly fielded a Yordano Alvarez rocket on one hop with two outs. Astros star Alex Bregman tried to make something happen from second, but he never had a chance. Renfroe's throw hit Vazquez in the air and he easily applied the tag, with Bregman giving the outfielder an admiring glance as he returned to the dugout. 

2. Game recognizes game

Date: May 2 vs. A's

There might not be a better defender in baseball, at any position, than A's third baseman Matt Chapman. The two-time Platinum Glover and overall 2018 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year knows what it's like to turn a seemingly impossible play, but even he must've been shocked to be thrown out at third on massive fly ball off the center field fence that eluded Alex Verdugo before being corralled by Renfroe, who unloaded a one-hop throw that beat Chapman cleanly. Until Wednesday night, this would've qualified as Renfroe's best throw of the year. 

1. Game-saver, of course

Date: Sept. 8 vs. Rays

Recency bias this is not. When one considers the quality of the throw and the magnitude of the moment, this is an easy choice for No. 1. Renfroe backed up Santana and retrieved the ball with his momentum taking him away from home plate, but he turned and absolutely unloaded a 300-foot missile to third. Bobby Dalbec caught it on one hop as Wendle slid, applying the bang-bang tag to end the game and vault the Red Sox back into the AL Wild Card lead.