Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza Jr. made a diving attempt on Nationals second baseman Howie Kendrick’s line drive to right field on Thursday, but the ball popped out of his glove as he hit the ground and took a huge divot out of the Chase Field turf in the process. Souza’s effort on what was ruled a double recalled the incredible catch he made while with the Nationals on the final day of the regular season in 2014, a full-extension grab to deny Christian Yelich extra bases and preserve Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter, the first in Nationals history.
“Easily one of the coolest memories,” Souza told MASN’s Dan Kolko during a recent interview about the greatest defensive play of his five-year career.
Souza, a rookie in 2014, entered the game on Sept. 28 of that year at Nationals Park as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. He credited Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr for making sure he was ready and aware of what was at stake, unlike teammate Tyler Moore, who Souza once claimed had no idea Zimmermann was in the midst of a no-hitter until the ninth inning.
“All I could think about was, if there was a fly ball, I do not want to drop it,” said Souza, who had misplayed a routine flyball two days earlier. “At that time, defense isn’t what I was known for. I always put a focus on defense, but once I got [to Arizona], I took it to another level. To be a defensive replacement, I’d never been that before. I was so amped up, so excited. All I could think about was, anything toward [me], if I was 10 feet from it, I was going to lay out for it.”
Kolko asked Souza if there was a moment during the no-hitter-sealing play when he thought Yelich’s line drive would find the gap.
“Right off the bat,” Souza said. “As soon as he made contact with it. We had moved in and over. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I moved in and over. I’m going to blow this.’ It was unbelievable. It was like God gave me an extra gear. Once the ball got going, I hit another gear and I started closing in on it. It almost was like I was closing and the ball was dying. I got there and all I can remember was laying out and [center fielder Michael A. Taylor] screaming.”
Souza said Zimmermann was one of the teammates he became closest with during the two months he spent in the majors with the Nationals in 2014, so to be able to preserve his no-hitter “was pretty cool.” Kolko didn’t ask about the “incredibly generous” Best Buy gift card Souza received from Zimmermann as a show of his appreciation.
“It was a great way for me to leave there,” said Souza, who was traded to Tampa Bay in December 2014 in a three-team deal that brought pitcher Joe Ross and shortstop Trea Turner to the Nationals from San Diego.
During Sunday’s Nationals-Diamondbacks series finale, Souza was mic’d up and introduced himself to Turner, who has become a star in Washington. Souza, in his first season with Arizona after being traded from Tampa Bay in another three-team deal in February, started the season on the disabled list after straining his right pectoral muscle while diving for a ball during spring training.
“We were traded for each other,” Souza said, extending his hand to greet Turner on Sunday. “Nice to meet you, man. I love the way you play the game. That’s awesome. You like it over here? Great people.”
“Yeah,” Turner said. “Good stuff. The new staff is good, so it’s been fun.”
“You guys are playing good,” Souza said. “You’re swinging it well. Keep going. I had to hear about how good you were for three years in Tampa. Keep playing buddy.”
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