NEW YORK — Off the bat, Abraham Almonte's 97.9-mph line drive looked like a base hit, ticketed to come down in shallow center field.
With runners on first and second, and the Red Sox trailing by two runs, the base knock would've at least given Boston a bases-loaded situation with one man out. At best, it would've cut into the Yankees' lead, keeping the Red Sox in a position to do more damage.
That's when center fielder Harrison Bader darted into frame, lurching forward with a dive. The baseball nestled into his Statue of Liberty colored mitt just inches above the grass, a web gem that sparked a resounding roar from a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium.
"There's a short list of people making that [play]," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said after the game. "Getting that read, jump, diving straight head first like that, it's an elite play."
Bader was acquired from the Cardinals ahead of the trade deadline on August 2—in exchange for left-hander Jordan Montgomery—but wasn't able to make his Yankee debut until Tuesday as he worked back from plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
In just five games since then, he's shown fans exactly why New York made that deal. Saturday's diving grab was just the latest impactful play that the center fielder has made during this debut homestand.
"He's impacted us in every game he's been a part of," Boone added. "Coming off the bench yesterday. Defensively today. He's gotten some big hits. Big base running plays. He's done a great job for us in this first week and really settled himself into the team really nicely."
Bader drove in three runs in his first game as a Yankee, racking up six RBI in his first three contests (going 4-for-11 in that span). On Friday, Bader got a scheduled day off, a chance to rest his foot as he readjusts to being in the lineup. In the eighth inning of that game, Bader came off the bench and walked as a pinch-hitter, stealing second, advancing to third on an errant throw and scoring the game-winning run.
Saturday was the first time he had been tested on defense, a chance for him to flash the skills that gave him his reputation as the best defensive center fielder in the game. Like his unmatched advanced metrics, Bader passes the eye test as well.
"That was one of the nicest [catches] I've seen, that's a really nice read coming straight in," Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Bader, tapping in to his familiarity of the outfielder from their days playing against one another in the NL Central. "He can go get it out there, he's got a really good arm. Pitching and defense is going to take us to the promised land."
Bader credited his preparation speaking after the game about the catch, saying those types of plays are "controllable" when you practice, working on your reads, your first step and come in with a good game plan in positioning.
Asked to evaluate his first week with this club, a team he grew up rooting for as a Bronxville native, Bader didn't focus on his personal performance. He didn't even mention it. Instead, he honed in on the number of wins New York has racked up since his name has been penciled onto Boone's lineup card.
In those five games, the Yankees are 5-0. Can't ask for a better first impression than that.
"We got a bunch of wins. That's all I really care about," he said. "Like I said, when I was rehabbing, I was just getting ready to focus to come back and play. All I cared about was winning and we've done a lot of that the last week, so it's exciting to just keep that rolling."
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