(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

The Cardinals sent right-hander Joe Kelly to the mound in the sixth and the first pitch he threw, a fastball outside, was sent screaming toward the gap in center field by the Nationals’ Danny Espinosa.

“When I hit that ball, I thought it was for sure over his head,” the second baseman recalled. “I thought I got enough of it to actually hit it out.”

As the shot flew, arcing deep into left center, Cardinals’ center fielder Jon Jay raced toward the outfield wall, his glances alternating between the ball in the air and the rapidly closing barrier. He couldn’t get there, could he?

“Honestly, I’m very positive,” right fielder Carlos Beltran said of his view of the hit. “But as soon as [Espinosa] hit that ball I thought he didn’t have no chance.”

Jay leapt toward the wall as he entered the warning track, slamming into the green foam as the ball fell into his outstretched glove. There, where Jay collided with the wall – right next to the image of retired Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa – the 27-year-old made the catch for the defensive play of the series so far.

As he tumbled back down to the warning track, Jay held the ball outstretched for all to see.

“He put a good swing on the ball,” Jay said. “Where I was from, I saw it up there and got a pretty good jump. I got to the warning track and made a choice to jump, I knew I had to make a choice, and I made a jump and I was able to do that.”

Said Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny: “One of the best catches I’ve seen.  I think it’s his best catch of the year.  He barely looked up as he was hitting the wall, very impressive and had a couple RBI hits, as well.  He’s been so consistent in the outfield making the routine play, but the biggest thing about him is how he’s taken charge in the outfield.  He’s truly been quarterbacking and improving and it’s fun to watch him do his thing.”

At the time Jay made the catch St. Louis led 7-3 but there was still a chance that the Nationals – who recorded a pair of solo home runs in the fifth – would manage to mount a comeback. Beginning with Jay’s catch on Espinosa’s hit, though, the Cardinals retired three consecutive batters to end the frame.

And on a night where the Cardinals offense took center stage, it was Jay’s leaping catch that was easily the play of Game 2.

“That was amazing. He’s made countless highlight-reel plays out there. He’s the best center fielder in the league in my opinion,” second baseman Daniel Descalso said. “You don’t expect anybody to make that play, but he does a good job of positioning himself and getting good breaks on balls. We’re spoiled with him out there at center.”