In last night's game in San Diego, Felix Hernandez was working on a one-hit shutout in the bottom of the seventh when he walked Brian Giles with two outs. Next up, Chase Headley drove second Hernandez' second pitch toward the far reaches of center field. Here are Mariner broadcasters Dave Sims and Mike Blowers on what happened next:
- Sims: There's a drive to center field, long run Gutierrez, he makes the catch. Oh, he's been brilliant all year. Ran it down around 394, got a great jump. He bails Felix out. That could have been all kinds of trouble, but Gutierrez on the spot ...
Well, we've just been thrilled by a fabulous catch by Franklin Gutierrez to end the inning. Got the matinee-idol looks and he is covering center field as well or better than anybody in all of baseball. What a catch ... Mike, what did you think when that ball came off the bat?
Blowers: Well, when it was hit, as hard as it was hit and the line that it was hit on, I didn't think he had any chance to run that down. But he's surprised me a number of times so I should probably stop thinking that, because if it stays in the ballpark he's probably going to get it.
It's a beautiful thing, when objective analysis meets subjective evaluation. If you watch Gutierrez for just a few games -- and I probably haven't seen more than six or eight Mariners games this season -- you would guess that he's one of the best center fielders in the majors. Meanwhile, the four center fielders with the highest Ultimate Zone Ratings this season are Coco Crisp, Matt Kemp, Mike Cameron, and -- topping the list -- Franklin Gutierrez.
The Mariners and general manager Jack Zduriencik deserve a great deal of credit for all this. Gutierrez is 26, and prior to this season he had started the grandiose total of 15 games in center field in the majors (because he was behind Grady Sizemore on the depth chart in Cleveland). Sure, his numbers as a corner outfielder with the Indians were outstanding ... but who pays attention to numbers? Other than Zduriencik, how many baseball executives were wild about turning Gutierrez into a center fielder? How good would Gutierrez look in a White Sox uniform right about now?
Let's be honest. Gutierrez is not a great player, nor even a particularly good player because he can't particularly hit. But he is good, because he's great in center field. And at $455,000 this season, he's an absolute steal.