The baseball was sinking through the early afternoon shadows, a liner off the bat of Giants catcher Buster Posey. It was a solid single with two outs in the first inning, or perhaps it would have been, for 90 percent of the world’s right fielders.
Lorenzo Cain, though, is not a right fielder. He plays there sometimes, of course. But even then, he is more of a ball-hawking, free-safety of a center fielder — a man who just happens to roam over to right.
“Playmaker,” center fielder Jarrod Dyson says.
This was the case on Friday night in game three of the World Series, after Royals manager Ned Yost elected to start Cain in right field, in place of Nori Aoki, to combat the tricky terrain in right field here at AT&T Park.
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So as Posey’s liner shot toward the right-center gap, Cain read the ball off the bat and charged hard, making a sliding catch that retired the side.
For one more October night, in the cool air of San Francisco, Cain continued his defensive rampage as the Royals fended off the San Francisco Giants 3-2 and took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Cain would tack on another shoe-string catch in the second inning — another for the postseason highlight video — robbing Travis Ishikawa of extra bases with two outs and a man on first.
So consider for a moment: If Aoki is playing right field at that moment, who knows if the ball falls to the grass, and who knows if the runner on first comes around to score. But with Yost employing a defensive-minded unit, the ball nestled gently into Cain’s glove.
“As long as I catch it,” Cain would say. “I can slide, dive, jump against the wall, run into the wall, it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m catching it.”
On Thursday afternoon, Yost had attempted to play coy. A reporter had asked if Dyson would potentially start alongside Cain in an effort to combat the troublesome angles and vast acreage in right field. Yost said he would look at all options.
By Friday afternoon, Yost had unveiled his gambit. He was going with defense. Dyson would start in center field, and Cain would slide over to right, pushing Aoki out of the lineup.
“With this vast outfield,” Yost said, “we knew that we had to put our best defense out there.”
The move paid off early.
One day earlier, Cain had arrived at AT&T Park for an off-day workout. Before heading to the field to take his first inspection of the odd dimensions in right field, Cain learned that he was not selected as a finalist for the Gold Glove in center field.
Cain shrugged his shoulders. What can you do? He maintained the stance on Friday night. But inside the Royals clubhouse, the snub burned his teammates.
“He’s laying his body out on the line for the team and making plays,” Dyson said.
“He deserve a gold patch, at least in my eyes. I don’t know who voted on that, but it was a terrible vote — I’ll tell you that.”
In a playoff run built upon preventing runs — both on defense and in the bullpen — Cain’s presence has been a constant force. Center field. Right field. Awards or none. For another night, Cain just made plays.
“I guess they didn’t think I was worthy,” Cain said. “I’m working on getting this ring for the boys.”