Commentary

Franklin Gutierrez's jaw-dropper

Mariners CF, back from stomach ailment, makes HR-robbing catch against Yanks

Updated: May 28, 2011, 1:45 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Seattle center fielder Franklin Gutierrez made a catch in Friday's Mariners-Yankees game that was so outrageously spectacular even cynical sportswriters might have whispered "Wow" in between bites of their free press box hot dogs.

With Seattle trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning, New York's Nick Swisher drilled a ball to deep center. Gutierrez, who had been shifted slightly toward left, sprinted after the ball, slowed slightly to a cruise and then with precise, virtually Swiss-engineered timing, leaped against the fence and reached over to catch the ball just before it left the yard for a home run. Fittingly, he crashed into the fence right next to the Dave Niehaus "My Oh My" memorial sign because this catch would have left the late Hall of Fame broadcaster gasping for adjectives and adverbs in several languages.

In fact, you could still see the imprint Gutierrez's body left on the padded fence innings later, like the lingering outline the Coyote always left in a boulder after his Acme jet roller skates failed.

"That catch was just unbelievable," Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "I wish there was some word stronger than 'unbelievable' but I guess I don't have a good enough vocabulary. I couldn't tell if it was in the seats and he was just being respectful by going after it or whether he really had a play on it. He's like a deer out there with those strides and he's so graceful."

Said Gutierrez as he dressed at his locker with his 2010 Gold Glove award just taking up space on a lower shelf: "It was a good catch, I guess. It was nothing special. I was just trying to do my job."

Friday's catch helped the Mariners stay close in an eventual 4-3 comeback victory over the Yankees that lifted them back to .500 and Gutierrez says he could not have made it two weeks ago. That was when he was still recovering from severe irritable bowel syndrome that put him on the disabled list the first seven weeks of the season and caused him to lose 15-20 pounds at one point. Now, Andruw Jones could lose that much weight and you may not notice. But the already trim Gutierrez looked skeletal. Even Steven Tyler would have said, "Man, you need to mix in a cheeseburger."

Of course, eating isn't so pleasant when you have a stomach ailment that requires multiple medical examinations -- including one at the Mayo Clinic -- over several weeks just to figure out what is wrong. "It was tough," Gutierrez said. "But I already talked about it. I don't want it to get it into my head. I feel good right now."

"I hope his stomach is back to normal," Ryan said. "Just so he can live a normal life off the field."

Gutierrez returned from the DL last week and the Mariners are easing him back into a full-time role, but he is already making a difference. They entered Saturday 7-0 in his first seven games back. Seattle's pitching has been outstanding but their offense has been challenged. Gutierrez can help at the plate -- he hit 12 home runs last season in what was a disappointing dropoff from his 18 in 2009 -- but especially in the field. When a team is as dependent on pitching as the Mariners are, fielding is more important than ever and for much of this season Seattle's has been less than spectacular. While Michael Saunders (.175) is a good defensive outfielder, he is not in Gutierrez's class in center field. Then again, few are.

The Mariners have had some great center fielders -- Mike Cameron and that Ken Griffey Jr. guy -- but Gutierrez is as good in the field as either, maybe better. He covers so much ground in Seattle he probably has higher property tax bills than Bill Gates.

"He's special in center field," manager Eric Wedge said. "He really sees the ball off the ball. He sees angles. He really has great lines to the ball. I think he's the best there is."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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