CLEVELAND -- Like any good infielder, Indians third baseman Giovanny Urshela runs through scenarios in his mind before each pitch is thrown. What unfolded in the fifth inning on Friday night was not something he planned on. It was pure instincts.
In a critical moment in Cleveland's 7-2 victory over the Yankees, Urshela pulled off a stunning defensive gem that created an unlikely out at the plate, and earned him a standing ovation from the sold-out Progressive Field crowd. Urshela was ready for the high chopper that Clint Frazier sent his way, but the third baseman had not anticipated trying to throw home for an out.
"Not at all," Urshela said with a grin. "I just reacted to that play."
The situation was this: Runners on the corners, one out and the Indians holding a 4-1 lead. Tribe starter Trevor Bauer fired a cutter low in the zone to Frazier, who pulled the pitch into the ground, sending it arcing high over third base. Urshela took two quick steps to his right, jumped and plucked the ball from the air while fully extended. Ronald Torreyes was hustling home on contact.
Given Frazier's speed, Urshela knew at that moment he would have no chance for an out at first base. His only option -- besides holding the ball to be safe -- was a throw to the plate. It would not be easy, though. The grab carried him another two steps into foul territory, and Torreyes was now in Urshela's line of vision. The play would require a precise across-the-body throw to catcher Roberto Perez.
"Where he caught it," Bauer said, "the runner was directly between him and 'Berto.'"
Urshela also said that aspect is the most challenging on a play of that nature.
"I had no angle," Urshela said. "With the runner, I had to throw above him. Thank God that was a smaller runner."
Urshela got the throw off, sending it by the 5-foot-8 Torreyes to the inside part of the plate, where Perez was ready. The catcher gloved the ball, swiftly shifted to his left and applied the tag in time. Perez immediately stood, pumped his fist and pointed at his third baseman.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi called it one of the best plays this season.
"Unbelievable play," Girardi said. "It's a play that is probably not going to be made too often, because of the way he had to throw. He had to throw across the runner. Maybe if 'Toe' is taller, maybe it makes a difference, honestly. It's some kind of play. It's as good as I've seen this year."
As difficult as the play was to pull off, it was the timing that mattered most.
From there, Bauer issued a walk to slugger Aaron Judge to set up a bases-loaded clash with Gary Sanchez. Five of the six pitches Bauer threw to Sanchez were curveballs -- the final offering missing his bat for a strikeout. On the mound, Bauer slammed his fist into his glove three times as the crowd roared.
It was the most important at-bat of the night, but Bauer's escape had its roots in Urshela's gem.
"Gio's play kind of saved the inning," Bauer said.
Indians manager Terry Francona agreed.
"Without that play, you don't know [what happens]," Francona said. "I don't think it's an overstatement that it's a game saver."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.