As Carlos Ruiz smacked Vicente Padilla's eephus pitch into center field, the ball soared toward the gap in right. Having little experience in the outfield, Adrian Gonzalez — a first baseman — didn't have the speed to track it down.
But, out of nowhere, Ryan Sweeney raced into the picture. He stretched across the air and snagged the ball, making arguably one of the best defensive plays of the year.
Just like that, Sweeney ended Philadelphia's offensive threat and preserved the team's 7-5 victory.
While the Red Sox blasted four home runs in the win, they were buoyed by defensive prowess. In manager Bobby Valentine's eyes, Sweeney's catch was the true highlight of Saturday night.
"I thought it saved the game," Valentine said. "That's a highlight-reel catch, that's a top 10. He — I don't think he had anything left. He gave everything he had, he was full extension and dove and made I think a game-saving catch."
When the Red Sox acquired Sweeney in December, they raved about his defensive aptitude. The 27-year-old has improved as a hitter, but that play had him reminding upper management why he's an elite defender.
"If I'm not driving in a run in a game and I save two runs, I view that as being just as good," Sweeney said. "It changed the game right there. If that ball falls, I don't know what the score would've been, but it would've been pretty close."
It's a testament to Sweeney's defensive skills, considering Saturday was just Sweeney's sixth appearance in center this season. Through seven seasons, he's played just 159 games in center field.
Gonzalez appreciated the spectacular dive more than most. As a novice in right field, his strategy — while he watched the fly ball — was to get in position to back up Sweeney in case the ball landed.
Fortunately for Gonzalez, Sweeney took care of business.
"It was awesome. It was the first time I've seen a play like that," Gonzalez said. "It was an incredible play. I was telling guys that he knew the guy in right field wasn't going to get there, so he had a straight line to it, and nobody was going to get in his way."
Despite the memorable grab, Sweeney didn't completely escape pain-free. After the game, he complained of headaches in the clubhouse, likely because of the impact of hitting the ground.
"I think I've just got like whiplash or something, because I hit the warning track and it was pretty hard," Sweeney said. "Because you're running so fast and then your momentum kind of comes to a stop, so my neck is a little jolted."
Amid the pain, Sweeney still said the diving snag ranked in the top five catches of his career. On Saturday, it was the No. 1 reason the Red Sox preserved their lead.
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