- Andrew Marchand, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- The popup went up into the Bronx night like a hot air balloon. Up, up and away it went as Francisco Cervelli followed it. The ball drifted toward the Yankees dugout and Cervelli sprinted.
As Joe Girardi watched, what flashed in his mind was how Cervelli had "no regard for his body."
Cervelli kept his eye on the ball as he barreled into the blue padded railing in front of the dugout.
"I had no control," Cervelli said. "I had to jump."
His legs went up, his head went down. Over the railing Cervelli tumbled. His manager tried to catch him. Cervelli used the ducking Tony Pena as his landing pad.
The ball? Where was the ball, you ask? Cervelli caught it.
This type of play is why Cervelli is quickly becoming a Yankees folk hero. Cervelli had his first three-hit game in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Orioles. He had had his first triple. He put down a couple perfect bunts, including one for a hit. He caught a tremendous game.
Cervelli may never hit 30 homers, but he leads the Yankees in energy. His teammates love him, because of the Little League-like enthusiasm he shows on the biggest stage.
"We were saying, 'You caught it and then you jumped," said Swisher, laughing.
Swisher said in the Yankees universe, there is the Cervelli "breed" and there is everyone else.
"He knows how lucky he is to be out here and he enjoys it," Swisher said.
When asked about being razzed, Cervelli's immediate reaction was to defend himself with a smile.
"I saw the replay," Cervelli said.
Cervelli creates excitement almost every moment he is on the field. He produced the Yankees' first run by nailing a line drive to right center in the third. Adam Jones left his feet and dove for the ball. It whisked under him and to the wall.
Cervelli, who hustles right out of the box, sprinted around first and then, like a modern day Pete Rose, sans the gambling, he knocked off his helmet and kept churning. When he got to third, standing up without a throw, he led the cheers, clapping like he was in the upper deck.
Later, in the sixth, he added a bunt base hit and, in the eighth, a sacrifice that led to an insurance run.
"He did all the little things and he did them as well as you could do them," Girardi said.
Cervelli doesn't only bring the energy; pitchers love throwing to him. Catching ERA can be a dubious stat, because it is mostly predicated by the guy who is a little more than 60 feet away. Entering Tuesday, Cervelli owned the third-best catcher ERA since the beginning of last year (minimum 300 innings).
The Giants' Eli Whiteside (2.90) and the Mariners' Rob Johnson (3.18) were the only catchers who had better ERAs than Cervelli's 3.18. By comparison, Jorge Posada's ERA since 2009 is 4.86 in 932 innings.
Cervelli's sincerity combined with his energy is what makes him so popular. He doesn't just get excited when he is clapping for himself on third.
After A.J. Burnett escaped trouble, giving up just one run by striking out the side to end the third, Cervelli jumped from his crouch and pumped his fist as hard as he could, looking as if he is having more fun than anyone on the field.
"My mom always said, 'Have fun, because you don't what is going to happen tomorrow,'" Cervelli said.
Chamberlain said he knew he was going to be the closer Tuesday night because Mariano Rivera had his turf shoes on. Chamberlain said he has watched Rivera prepare so he would be ready for the role.
"I have a great teacher," Chamberlain said.
Girardi is hopeful Rivera will be able to close on Wednesday.
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1dAndrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews