SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The play has followed Gregor Blanco since last June -- around San Francisco and back home to his native Venezuela.
It's one of the most vivid images of the Giants' 2012 season, Blanco diving with his glove outstretched and body angled toward the center-field wall, fully extended, in an area of the vast AT&T Park outfield where nobody thought he could possibly be.
"People that I don't even know come to me and say, 'How did you catch that?'" Blanco said this week in the Giants' spring training clubhouse about the catch that helped preserve Matt Cain's perfect game. "'How did you do it? Did you do something different? Are you human?'"
The answer to the last two questions is yes, affirmed Blanco, the 29-year-old outfielder who last season went from surprise Opening Day roster member to the Giants' regular left fielder during their World Series run.
Blanco made his share of diving catches in the playoffs, too, particularly in Game 1 against the Detroit Tigers, when he prevented two hits on nearly identical plays. But the one that landed him on highlight reels was in the seventh inning June 13, when the Houston Astros' Jordan Schafer drove a full-count pitch from Cain into the gap in right-center.
"When that ball was first hit, I didn't think he was going to get there," said first-base coach Roberto Kelly, who works with the Giants' outfielders.
Kelly was absent from AT&T Park that night, so he missed the pregame meeting with the outfielders and witnessed the catch on TV. During the meeting, Blanco said, the coaches pointed out that Schafer, a left-handed hitter, had a tendency to pull the ball to that gap when ahead in the count. So before Cain delivered his 3-2 pitch, Blanco, playing right field that night, took a couple steps to his right.
What Kelly and viewers at home saw was Cain, as is sometimes the case with pitchers who know a pitch has been hit well, pausing a moment before turning to watch the ball. Blanco was already in the gap and sprinting toward center field. He angled backward toward the wall and went into a last-second dive.
Blanco said at first he didn't think he had a shot at the catch. He has watched the play numerous times and, even knowing the outcome, doesn't see the point on his route where he knows he will catch up. "Not at all," he said. "I just say, oh well, it's going to be a dive."
The ball, of course, fell into the webbing of his glove, maybe two feet off the ground, and he popped up holding it for the umpires to see.
With no view of Blanco's first step, Kelly can't say for sure how impressive the jump and route to the ball were. But he said Tuesday it spoke to the emphasis Blanco has put on his defense since joining the Giants.
"I think when he came to us he was a good outfielder. But what I try to talk to him about is the importance of defense, especially with our pitching," Kelly said. "We expect a lot out of it. And obviously he's at the point where because of the work he put in, we look at him as one of the best outfielders in the league, somebody you can depend on.
"The bad thing about it, in a good way, is that I'm used to it. I expect it. It's more surprising to me when he doesn't get to balls now."
Blanco is expected to share time in left field this season with Andres Torres, a situation he seems to be embracing. Blanco said he's also working to shorten his swing and hit more ground balls and line drives than last season, when he batted .244 and stole 26 bases but struck out 104 times in 393 at-bats.
Blanco said he doesn't tire of people asking him about the catch.
"That's cool that people see me that way," he said. "That's an accomplishment you have and say you did because of the faith you have and the passion you have for the game. But I want to accomplish myself more, some other things. Be more consistent in my offense.
"And, of course, try to make catches like that more often."
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