Clutch catch eludes Iwamura
Unsuccessful over-the-shoulder grab in sixth inning looms large
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays were one great play from escaping the sixth inning with no runs being scored in Game 5 of the World Series, and second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who found himself in the middle of the action for most of the Series, looked like just the guy to make that play.
The continuation of Game 5 began with the Phillies hitting in the bottom of the sixth. With one out in the inning, Geoff Jenkins stood on third for the Phillies, 90 feet away from scoring the go-ahead run. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to have the infield play in against the next hitter, Jayson Werth, who promptly hit a blooper just over the infield clay.
Iwamura gave chase and tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch. Unfortunately for Iwamura and the Rays, the ball just eluded Iwamura and fell to the turf, allowing the Phillies to take a 3-2 lead.
"Yeah, he almost had it," Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "I think it hit off his arm or something. He tried to cradle it and he made a great play, he just couldn't come up with it.
"The wind was blowing, it wasn't exactly a nice day out there. [There] wasn't anything you could do about it. He's made some great plays throughout the year. It was a tough play. He did all he could, like I said, [when] you factor in the weather and everything. It was tough play and would have been a great play if he made it."
Werth's hit "just looked like a flare to center," said Rocco Baldelli, who was in right field for the Rays. "Aki tried to make an over-the-shoulder catch, and those are tough. I don't know what it hit. If it hit his chest or wrist or what, those are awkward plays. You don't practice that, you just kind of wing it and try to get it done."
Maddon said Iwamura would have made the play "easily" had the infield not been played in.
"But we had to take that chance," Maddon said. "That's just part of the game. You play it in and they hit a pop. You play it back and they hit a slow ground ball. It just happens and you make your best guess at that moment and you never look back."
Throughout the Series, Iwamura proved to be a lightning rod for action. In the seventh inning of Game 5, Iwamura demonstrated the kind of glove work Rays fans are used to seeing when he dove to his right to backhand a shot hit by Pedro Feliz, and he then flipped to Bartlett covering at second to complete the jaw-dropping play.
And Iwamura hit the ball in the seventh inning that Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, after realizing he could not get the speedy Iwamura at first, opted to fake to first before throwing home to nail Bartlett trying to score.
Iwamura got off to a booming start in the World Series with three hits in Game 1 against Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who was voted MVP for the Series. He added another hit against Hamels in Game 5. But Iwamura experienced some troubles in Game 4 when he made two big errors in the Phillies' 10-2 win.
For his part, Iwamura, a natural third baseman, was beside himself.
"Unfortunately, I had two very bad plays," he said through an interpreter. "I feel very silly and very embarrassed. I feel responsible for those plays. I thought I could make the plays and execute them. It was completely my fault."
In the bottom of the third, Iwamura booted Utley's leadoff grounder to the right side, setting up a Phillies run.
"That was a bad hop," Iwamura said. "I was rushing myself and I don't know why I was rushing myself. I'd love to get back to that moment and try it again."
In the bottom of the fourth, a grounder by Jimmy Rollins grazed off Iwamura's glove for an error. The Phillies scored three runs in the inning after the error.
"I saw the edge of the turf," Iwamura said. "The ball hit the edge and died a little bit. So I pulled my glove up, but unfortunately the ball went down."
In any event, the error was a tough call.
"It was my fault," he said. "I have no problem with that."
Maddon did not deny that the errors contributed to the loss.
"That's something we don't normally do. If you watched us [all year], we don't make that mistake," Maddon said. "And Aki's been fabulous all season. He made something like five errors [actually seven, during the regular season].
"That's just one of those things. I'm not going to try to make an excuse for him or try to explain it. It's just something he normally does not do. And they were very big for the Phillies in regard to this game and they took advantage of it, to their credit."
Iwamura's final chance to find the limelight never came. He stood in the on-deck circle when Eric Hinske struck out to end Game 5, thereby ending the Rays season.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.