CLEVELAND -- It was a battle between two players extremely skilled at a particular craft. Indians left fielder Michael Brantley has developed one of the most accurate arms in baseball. Dee Gordon of the Dodgers, boasts arguably the most speed in the game.
As the baseball dropped toward the glove of a charging Brantley in the fourth inning of Tuesday's 10-3 win in Los Angeles, Gordon tagged up at third base and prepared for a sprint to the plate. It was a shallow fly ball off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez, but deep enough to tempt Gordon to test Brantley's power and precision.
Runners have been making that mistake all season long.
"I know Gordon is one of the fastest guys in the game," Indians bench coach Brad Mills said. "But why would you want to test Michael in that situation?"
In one fluid motion, Brantley caught the ball and uncorked a low, accurate throw that one-hopped right into the glove of catcher Yan Gomes. Gordon slid in, but he was tagged out on the play, which wound up developing into one of the more memorable defensive gems of this Major League season. Yasiel Puig tried to go from first to second, but Gomes threw him out for a triple play.
It took a pair of instant-replay challenges to complete the feat, which would not have happened in the first place without Brantley's pinpoint throw home. Seemingly lost within the confusion of the complicated play was the fact that Brantley moved into a tie with Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes for the Major League lead with his 10th outfield assist of the year.
Following Tuesday's win, Brantley was asked if he hopes runners continue to test his left arm.
"Why not?" Brantley replied. "I'm always up for the challenge. It helps the baseball team out if I can throw somebody out. I take great pride in it and I'm going to continue to do the best job I can each and every day."
Brantley has proven his worth as an All-Star candidate in the batter's box this season, but his ability in the field shows how he has blossomed into a complete player for Cleveland. Not only is Brantley already one shy of his career high for assists in one season (he had 11 in 2013), he has made just one error in the past two seasons combined.
At Progressive Field in Cleveland, Brantley has mastered the art of the left-field corner, which includes the Indians' 19-foot-tall wall that separates the playing field from the bleachers and Home Run Porch. Mills, who serves as the Tribe's outfield instructor, said Brantley has worked hard at learning the nuances of the wall there and in other stadiums.
"He'll stand there in left field and he'll watch batting practice balls being hit off the wall at different angles," Mills said. "He doesn't have to run out there. He'll stand there and just watch how it hits off the wall, if it's in the corner, at an angle, what does the ball do? He pays attention to all those details."
It is a skill that has turned Brantley into an elite defender.
"He's so accurate it's uncanny," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He's eliminated a lot of rallies with his throws."
Here is a breakdown of Brantley's 10 outfield assists this season:
Date: April 4 vs. Twins
Victim: Kurt Suzuki
What happened: In the second inning, Minnesota's Brian Dozier sent a single to left field with Suzuki on second base. Suzuki attempted to score from second base, but was cut down at the plate without a cutoff man by Brantley for his first assist of 2014. The play ended the inning and Cleveland went on to claim a 7-2 victory in its home opener.
Date: April 20 vs. Blue Jays
Victim: Jose Reyes
What happened: Reyes sent a pitch from Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco for an RBI single in the fifth and tried to stretch it into a double when Brantley came up firing to the plate. Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall cut off the relay and snapped a throw to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who retired Reyes easily. The Indians got out of the inning and went on to win, 6-4.
Date: April 24 vs. Royals
Victim: Alcides Escobar
What happened: With two outs in the fifth inning, Jarrod Dyson singled up the middle to Brantley, who was playing center field. Escobar thought he had an opening to run from first to third base, but Brantley showed that his arm plays in center, too. Escobar was thrown out at third and Cleveland dealt Kansas City a 5-1 loss.
Date: May 7 vs. Twins
Victim: Chris Colabello
What happened: Colabello learned just how well Brantley operates in the left-field corner. In the second inning, the Twins first baseman pulled a pitch down the line for a leadoff single, but tried to hustle to second for a double. Brantley grabbed the carom with one hand, turned and fired a bullet to Kipnis, who applied the tag to complete the play in the Tribe's 4-3 win.
Date: May 20 vs. Tigers
Victim: Ian Kinsler
What happened: With one out and a runner on first base, Kinsler pulled a pitch from Cleveland's Trevor Bauer into left field. As has happened a handful of times this season, Kinsler gave in to the temptation of going for a double. Once again, Brantley read the play well and came up throwing to second base, where Kinsler was retired for an important out in the Indians' 6-2 win.
Date: May 24 at Orioles
Victim: Steve Clevenger
What happened: With two outs in the sixth inning and the Orioles trailing 5-0, Clevenger singled to left field, and -- like Reyes, Colabello and Kinsler before him -- he attempted to stretch it into a double. Feeling right at home in Camden Yards, Brantley threw Clevenger out, earned the assist and helped the Tribe roll to a 9-0 victory.
Date: June 12 at Red Sox
Victim: Mike Napoli
What happened: Chalk this one up to some poor baserunning, but it still counted as an assist for Brantley. On a fifth-inning single to left field from Daniel Nava, Napoli was caught running too far beyond second base. Brantley's throw went to third baseman Mike Aviles, who relayed the ball to Kipnis to nab Napoli in what ultimately was a 5-2 loss for Cleveland.
Date: June 15 at Red Sox
Victim: David Ortiz
What happened: Big Papi sent a pitch from Indians righty Corey Kluber high off the 37-foot Green Monster in left field for a base hit in the first inning of Cleveland's 3-2 win. On the play, though, Ortiz attempted to advance to second for a double. Brantley flashed his arm again with a throw to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who tagged Ortiz for the out.
Date: Friday at Mariners
Victim: Logan Morrison
What happened: Mike Zunino lifted a pitch from Bauer to deep left-center field, where Brantley made a leaping catch at the wall to rob the catcher of extra bases in the fourth inning. Morrison ran too far off first base and tried to retreat after the highlight-reel grab. Brantley's throw to Cabrera was right on target and the shortstop doubled up Morrison at first in Cleveland's 3-2 loss.
Date: Tuesday at Dodgers
What happened: As part of one of the more unique triple plays in baseball history, Brantley threw Gordon out at the plate after making a running catch on Gonzalez's fly ball in the fourth inning. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly challenged the out call, but a review showed that Gomes made the tag in time, giving Brantley his 10th assist of the season.