What do you see as you watch Eli White make the catch of the Rangers’—and possibly baseball’s—season to date?
Not what you watched, because that’s obvious. We all watched White catapult himself into the air and backhand a should-be Ji-man Choi homer with such grace that even the Rays first baseman had to grin.
Tell me what you saw.
If you’re an optimist like D CEO’s Ben Swanger, it could be a microcosm of who the Rangers are at this moment in time: ascendant and impossible to ignore. The same team that stumbled to a 2-9 start is now only a game below .500 on the strength of a 16-10 record in May. They’re probably not good enough to jimmy their way into the playoff conversation, but they’re definitely a tier above the dregs in places such as Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Washington. Monday’s win over a very good Rays team was about what we expected going into the season: progress, with the occasional SportsCenter highlight to boot.
Or maybe you saw a re-creation of Gary Matthews Jr. from 2006, which opens the door for us to have a fun little debate over which face-melting catch left behind a bigger puddle of epidermis.
Me, I’m going with what you see in the headline. There have been other high points in the season thus far, from Marcus Semien’s cathartic grand slam to Martin Perez’s complete-game shutout in Houston (Jamey Newberg will have more on Perez tomorrow; you won’t want to miss it.) I, a charter member of the Nathaniel Lowe Appreciation Society, would be remiss if I didn’t put his extra-innings walk-off blast off Angels closer Raisel Iglesias in the conversation, too.
Yet we watch a smattering of walk-offs every year. Same goes for a complete game or two, even in the age of truncated starts. That the immediate comparison for White’s catch is something that happened more than a decade and a half ago says everything about how special this was.
The ’06 Rangers weren’t so different from the ’22 edition. They, too, were a team between eras: seven years removed from Texas’ last playoff appearance and four years from its next. Their 80-82 finish was eminently forgettable (even if it would also be an upper-bound outcome for this year’s squad). About the only thing that gets brought up anymore is Matthews Jr.’s catch, even if it was one snapshot in what became the center fielder’s career year. That’s what the right moment does. It endures as everything around it fades, including the best season of a man’s career.
And that’s what Eli White delivered last night. Both he and the Rangers certainly hope this is merely one of many moments to come, not the unquestioned high-water mark for someone who still has not played a full season of MLB games. We’ll remember it regardless, no matter what else happens this season.
Give White this, too: he was generous even while committing a robbery. Because while his catch might be impossible to top, he at least did his teammates the courtesy of leaving them four months to try to beat him for the Rangers’ play of the season.