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Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

Adam “Captain America” Jones emerges as the leader for Team USA

adam jones wbc catch

With fans engulfing him, Team USA CF Adam Jones leaps to make a spectacular catch Saturday night against the Dominican Republic.

As the United States prepares for tomorrow night’s World Baseball Classic semifinal showdown against Team Japan, plenty of things will be on manager Jim Leyland’s mind: How many innings can he coax out of Tanner Roark? Should Team USA get more aggressive on the basepaths if the game is tight? Who will be the designated hitter? One thing not on Leyland’s mind is who will man center field for the red, white and blue. As has been the case all tournament, Adam Jones will assume that responsibility. And if the recent past is an indicator of future occurrences, Jones will likely make a game-changing play.

While his stats at the WBC (.222/.222/.519 slash line) are pedestrian, his impact has been anything but, with Jones consistently making game-changing plays with both the bat and glove.

Jones’s clutch barrage commenced on day 1 of the Classic for Team USA when Jones stepped to the plate with two outs and the winning run on 3rd base in the bottom of the 10th inning. After Colombia’s Guillermo Moscoso got ahead of Jones 0-2, Jones fouled off a tough fastball before lining a splitter safely into left-center to send the United States home walk-off winners.

Then came Jones’s game-tying, 8th inning home run against Venezuela to kick off second round pool play, a blast that re-ignited a flat USA team. Three batters later, 1B Eric Hosmer won the game for the United States with a two-run bomb.

“After that swing from Jonesy it just seemed like the energy in the dugout shifted to our side,” said Hosmer. “It really got things sparked up for our club.”

Then, against Puerto Rico last Friday, Jones hit a solo shot off Seth Lugo to pull the U.S. within a run in the 6th inning.

Ostensibly bored of producing clutch hits, Jones opted for a flashier way to make an impact Saturday night against the Dominican Republic, this time robbing Baltimore teammate Manny Machado of a home run in the 7th inning that would have pulled the Dominicans to within one run. Off the bat, even watching it retrospectively, Machado’s opposite field blast looked like a no-doubter. But Jones, privy to San Diego’s repressive air as a former resident, never gave up on the ball.

“I’m still in kind of shock that I even got to that ball,” Jones admitted to reporters after the game. “I mean, off the bat, I’m just, like, ‘This ball’s hit really far, so just keep going, keep going.’ You know this California air’s going to slow it down, and just never quit. That’s just the style I play with. I don’t mind running into a wall or two. I just kept going after the ball, and I’ve seen the replay after the game, and I went for the catch.”

And given the circumstances — a close ball game with a playoff feel, rabid fans surrounding Jones trying to grab the ball, and the fact that Jones had to jump over the wall with his glove hand fully extended — it’s difficult to overstate how remarkable the catch was.

Orioles closer Zach Britton chimed in on the catch, taking an oblique shot at Jones’s defensive detractors: “I think when you watch him make plays like that, you fall back to people who think he’s actually an average outfielder in the big leagues. We’re like, ‘Do these people actually watch him play?’ And these people watch this and we’re like, ‘Well, we already know he was a great player.’ I just think [the reaction] is kind of funny when we see him make plays like that. Maybe we take it for granted, too.”

Given Jones’s remarkable consistency both as an on-field performer and as a clubhouse leader, it’s understandable that the Orioles may take their star center fielder for granted. But to his USA teammates not desensitized by Jones’s steady stream of production, Jones is certainly appreciated. Jones’s USA teammates bestowed the “Captain America” moniker upon him. While the nickname comes with a big responsibility, Jones doesn’t seem phased by it.

“I don’t mind it one bit,” said Jones of the Captain America moniker. “I’m the leader of the Orioles and I don’t mind being the leader of this team. We have plenty of leaders who are leaders on their respective teams and the beauty of this tournament is you come together with a bunch of great guys. We all have our own niches and things we add to the game. I just add intensity, passion and the guys just feed off me.”

While a lot of the focus for the Americans in the WBC was initially placed on stars like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Bryce Harper skipping the tournament, there’s little chatter of that now. Team USA is playing with a spirit and camaraderie befitting the Olympics more so than a tournament decried as an exhibition by its critics. You can thank Captain America for that.

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Updated: March 20, 2017 — 7:08 pm

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