ST. PETERSBURG -- Josh Donaldson made an early submission for catch of the year with an absolutely spectacular diving catch into the stands that at least temporarily preserved a perfect game for Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada in Wednesday afternoon's 1-0 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Estrada carried a perfect game into the top of the eighth when Donaldson made the highlight-reel play that will be remembered for a long time. It was a head-first dive that went three rows deep along the third-base side that had teammates all over the field putting hands on their heads in a state of disbelief.
Whenever a pitcher has a no-hitter or perfect game, it always seems to be accompanied by at least one signature play. Estrada eventually lost his perfect game later in the inning on an infield hit by Logan Forsythe, but at the time, Donaldson's play made it look like the stars were aligning for the Blue Jays.
"I was waiting for that big play," Estrada said after his club's victory. "Every no-hitter, it seems like, has that big play. Once he made it, I kind of, not reminded myself, but I thought about it I guess. I probably shouldn't have, because I think I gave up a hit on the very next pitch, but it was an incredible play. It pumped me up, and it's unfortunate I couldn't finish it."
@BringerOfRain20 sure it was a nice catch but did you even think about the safety of the fans sitting three rows up? Probably not. Selfish.
Donaldson's improbable grab came when Tampa Bay's David DeJesus led off with a popup toward foul territory along the third-base line. Donaldson initially thought he would have enough room to make the play, but the ball kept carrying to the stands, and all of a sudden, the All-Star third baseman knew he was going to have to do something special.
With Estrada six outs away from the potential first perfect game in Blue Jays history, Donaldson was going to do everything possible to make the play. If that meant sacrificing his body with a head-first dive into a sea of people and chairs, then that's what it was going to take.
Donaldson couldn't have played it any better. According to Statcast™, Donaldson made his first step 0.312 seconds after DeJesus made contact. He covered 80.63 feet and reached a top speed of 16.1 mph.
"When it was hit, I thought it was kind of going to be right on the line, right on the first row or whatever," Donaldson said. "As I kept running, I could see that it was kind of drifting off a little bit, and I felt like I could still make a play at it. The last time I looked down at the wall, I knew I was going to have to jump over the wall to make the catch.
"The last thought that was probably in my head was to try to get over top of the people, because it's natural for fans, when the ball is in the stands, for them to reach up and stand up, so I was just trying to get up over the fans to be able to catch the ball."
Blue Jays players all over the field immediately reacted. Second baseman Ryan Goins put both of his hands on his head, left fielder Chris Colabello lifted his arms into the air and Estrada thought this might turn into the day that he would make Major League history.
The reaction couldn't have been any different on the Rays' side of the field. It was the 22nd consecutive batter who was retired, and it seemed like they couldn't catch a break. When Estrada wasn't dominating from the mound, the Blue Jays were stealing outs in the field, with Jose Reyes also ranging to his right in the fourth inning to make an off-balance throw and Jose Bautista making a sliding catch in foul territory in the seventh.
Neither play topped Donaldson's, though, and players from around the league will have a tough time pulling off an equally impressive grab the rest of the way.
"Donaldson's play, man, that's maybe one of the better plays I've seen all year," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons would certainly agree with that.
"Looking out of the corner of the dugout, you just see this guy flying into the stands," Gibbons said. "At the time, we still had the no-hitter going, and I said to myself, 'When a guy throws a no-hitter, you usually get a play or two like that somehow.' ... That's what he does."