Ninety-nine times out of 100, when a high popup soars above the infield, it’s a pitcher’s job to get out of the way and let the infielders take charge of sorting out who will make the play. Often, you’ll see the pitcher point upward to help out his catcher.
When Cleveland outfielder Steven Kwan lofted a towering fly in the direction of the third-base dugout during the first inning on Sunday, Ryan shot off the mound like a rocket toward the ball’s trajectory. Catcher Ryan Jeffers and third baseman Gio Urshela also gave chase, and that’s a ball that would — and probably should — normally end up in Jeffers’ mitt.
Instead, Ryan never took his eyes off the prize and snagged the ball at the dugout rail, leaving Jeffers to hurtle to the ground at his feet. The pitcher then immediately turned to his dugout and flashed hand signals for “5-0-0” while Urshela helped Jeffers up next to him.
What on earth did that mean?
“We get 100 bucks from each starter for each foul ball that we catch,” Ryan clarified after the game. “I looked over in the dugout and Sonny [Gray] was laughing, so I just said, ‘Five hundred.’ I think there’s a rumor it might be $800, because we have so many guys here now.”
One of the other starters indicated after the game that Ryan’s original assumption was right, and the 25-year-old right-hander should expect to be $500 richer after collecting his reward from the other pitchers actively in the starting rotation: Gray, Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy, Josh Winder and Devin Smeltzer (who had just been called up from Triple-A St. Paul a day earlier).
This sort of side action isn’t thought to be uncommon in big league dugouts, by the way. Ryan said it was Gray who introduced this little game to the Twins’ tight-knit rotation, but in the past, Minnesota relievers have made a game of predicting home runs — and who knows what else is happening that we don’t know about?
The rotation didn’t think this would happen all too often, by the way, but Ryan almost doubled up on Sunday, when he also tried to call Jeffers off on a sixth-inning popup near home plate, only a handful of feet away from Jeffers’ position — only to hear a forceful “NO!” from his catcher.
“Maybe if he gives me $300, $400 of that $500,” Jeffers said. “But no, I can’t. The ones down the line, I’m going until someone calls me off. I didn’t know if that was Joe. I didn’t know if that was Gio. I’m going until he calls me off. But the one there, I can’t let him catch that ball.”
Jeffers grinned and apologized to Ryan, knowing what was at stake — but he’s a man of integrity. That had to be his ball. Even when there was $500 at stake.
“Maybe him and Gary [Sánchez] have something I don’t know about,” Ryan said ruefully.