It is a fairly simple play to backhand a baseball with your fielding glove and throw it some 130 feet or more across a diamond to a first baseman’s fixed position. There are, however, several factors that can quickly complicate such a maneuver. One is to be bent down, hunched over, and reaching to make contact with the ball as it caroms toward your weakside backhand. Yet another way would be to botch the play by, for lack of a more technical term, scooting the ball away in the complete opposite direction with said glove. A third and even more complicating scenario would be to have a real-life, breathing baseball player attempting to beat your subsequent throw to first base, because after all these other criteria have come to pass, you’d think that batter has got to be feeling pretty good about his chances.
And this is all why Manny Machado’s groundball kick-pick-and-throw, deep in the foul territory nether regions west of the Yankee Stadium third base yesterday, deserves to be appreciated and absorbed in its most proper and precise context. It happens so fast and naturally that you couldn’t really be blamed for not taking every minute circumstance into consideration. Once that happens, once you are fully cognizant of the kind of everyday athleticism that makes a play like Machado’s not just a full-blown reality but even remotely probable, then you can affirm, like countless others, why this moment from a 21-year-old doubles-hitting machine may ultimately stand as the defensive play of the 2013 baseball season. It’s already become something that forces headline writers into a reductive simplicity that seems both fitting and crassly underwhelming. For any other more worthy contender to take the crown would require such a combination of innate skill and opportunism that you couldn’t fathom it until it happens.
Until that day, presuming it comes, we have this.