Yesterday, the best catch (and possibly the best game) in all of baseball did not happen in any of the thirty Major League Baseball parks. It happened in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The Little League World Series is back in full force.
Outfielder Thomas Neal had a lunging catch to rival anything you would see on SportsCenter. He saved an extra-base hit and help Vancouver, British Columbia, to beat Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 13-9. The game itself was a bit of a slugfest. The teams combined for 27 hits. However, several defensive gems by Canada had fans buzzing. Many of those fans were Major League Baseball players and Twitter was their giant foam finger. Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles tweeted about Neal’s play, “That might be the catch of the year so far in all of baseball.”
Mexico’s Eduardo Abrego smacked a sinking liner to left-center with two outs in the third. With a runner on first, Neal dashed first to his right. Then, he dove for the catch with an outstretched glove. The ball hit his glove, just as his body hit the turf.
“The moment I saw it, I just had this feeling he was going to catch it,” said Vancouver’s pitcher Ataru Yamaguchi. Ben Revere of the Minnesota Twins tweeted, “O wow top ten play just made from the center fielder on the Canada team!!! That was pretty legit!!”
If you haven’t seen this catch, find it on YouTube. Revere has a point. The 13-year-old outfielder let out a well-deserved roar before being mobbed by teammates on his way back to the dugout.
“I told him he was my best friend now,” the 13-year-old Yamaguchi joked. “He wasn’t before. He was my fourth (best friend), just to clarify.” Speaking of clarification, if I (Trish Vignola) had just lost an 8-1 lead in the top of the second, Thomas Neal would be my new best friend as well.
You have to give credit to Mexico though. They never gave up. After starting the second with a seven run deficit, they rallied with the long ball. Ramon Ballina hit two homers alone.
Mexico manager Fernando Rios kept the message simple in encouraging his players after they fell behind. “Basically our work is to cheer them up and to tell them not to give up,” he said through interpreter Sergio Guzman. “And not to be impatient at the plate. Just hit some good baseballs.”
Man, if Bobby Valentine only had it that easy. Come to think of it, maybe Rios has it harder. I doubt Josh Beckett breaks down into tears when things go wrong…a lot.
By the third, Mexico had surged back and made it a competitive game. Mike Trout of the Angels tweeted “Wow 10-8 in the 3rd inning lol”. Canada was not going down without a fight though.
Canada escaped yet another jam in the sixth to hold on with Neal again in the spotlight. He caught a hard liner to center. On a side note, he nearly threw the ball into the infield expecting runners to tag before realizing it was the last out of the game. Adorable.
Jorge Cantu did a good job straddling a diplomatic line between both Canada and Mexico. He tweeted “Wow what a catch!!” He then tweeted to Mike Trout, “he wana be spidey like u dawg ! Ha ! Go Mexico tho ! Keep raking.”
Thomas Neal wasn’t the only Canadian player impressing us with the glove. Third baseman Kolby Buljevic grabbed a tough bouncer to set up a double play just before Neal’s sparkling catch in the third. Left fielder Carter Kada-Wong later fell backward to catch a high fly that was made more difficult because of steady showers.
“Our defense has been the strongest point of our team,” said manager Vito Bordignon. You think? If Little League Team Canada was going head to head with the New York Mets, I might have to put my money on Canada. “We’ve made so many …. unbelievable plays.” Yes, Vito. According to the twitter accounts of a lot of Major Leaguers (as well as myself), you very much did. Go Team Canada. Go Team Mexico. You remind us all why this game is so very cool.