DETROIT — It was hard to tell who was more shocked when second baseman Tony Kemp left his feet to steal an improbable out in the bottom of the eighth inning against the Tigers on Tuesday — the fans, the batter or Kemp himself.
The fans cheered, despite the play coming against the home team. The batter, Jeimer Candelario, looked on in disbelief. And Kemp, well … Kemp just sat on his behind in the grass, ball in glove, and looked around in pure amazement as he soaked up the moment with a reaction that will no doubt be a popular A’s GIF for years to come.
He’ll be the first to tell you the moment wasn’t staged. The look of childlike wonder plastered on his face, mouth hung open — all of it — was his honest reaction to returning to earth with that ball securely in his glove.
“Honestly, I shocked myself. I’m not gonna lie,” Kemp said after the A’s won, 4-1, in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Comerica Park. “The natural reaction you see right there is what you get.”
There was nothing about the play that wasn’t incredible, one of those frozen moments that was so perfect it looked choreographed. Candelario’s high liner had an expected batting average (xBA) of .910 and appeared far beyond Kemp’s reach, even though he was shaded toward second. Still, the speedy fielder covered 13 feet in seemingly no time at all, his last few steps serving as a launching pad for a Superman-like hurtle through the air as he stretched to corral the ball.
“That was a pretty acrobatic catch,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “I’m sure we’ll see it on the highlights, right? That’s what Tony does. I haven’t seen it on video yet, but the reaction was priceless. I thought the reaction was outstanding. … Big play to end the inning, and obviously it led to us adding on a run in the following inning with a little momentum.”
Kemp thumped neatly to the ground in a full layout, bounced twice and arrived at a halt in a seated position. His eyes were already wide by the time he stopped moving, his jaw already dropped. Candelario shook his head. First baseman Seth Brown couldn’t help but smile and laugh.
The pitcher, Domingo Acevedo, pounded his glove and roared with excitement, then gave his infielder a bear hug in the dugout, where the latter bounded down a line, accepting high-fives all around, still clearly shocked by his feat.
“That definitely ranks in the Top 5 on the catches list, for sure,” said Kemp, even before he watched the replay for the first time. “… When the ball left the bat and had top spin to it, I kind of had an in-between feeling at first, but when I left my feet, I was like, ‘Well, I’m either gonna get it or I’m not.’”
Watching Kemp watch his catch during a postgame replay in the clubhouse was nearly as entertaining as the initial play. Kemp laughed out loud at the leap, then quickly transitioned to a “Wowww,” and right back to laughter as he saw the look on his own face.
No wonder everyone was pumped, he opined. With such a mob scene in the dugout, though, who had the best reaction?
“I think it was [Cristian] Pache’s,” Kemp said. “He said, ‘No. 1. ESPN, No. 1.’