ANAHEIM -- Peter Bourjos, the Angels' young, speedy center fielder, prefers to play a shallow outfield, and who can blame him?
By both statistical and visual measures, he's among the best defensive outfielders in the major leagues, and a true Gold Glove candidate even in 2011, his first full season in the bigs.
But when Angels third-base coach Dino Ebel took him aside early on in Monday's 5-1 win over the Detroit Tigers and suggested he move back a little bit the next time Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera came up, Bourjos listened and did as Ebel recommended -- even if it made him feel a little uncomfortable on Cabrera's fourth-inning low-liner to center that he had to scramble to grab on the run.
And, boy, was he glad he did. The next time Cabrera came to the plate, with two runners on and no out in the sixth, he slammed a 1-0 pitch from Joel Pineiro all the way to the wall in center field that Bourjos caught up to -- just barely -- as he crashed into the wall for the highlight-reel play. He said he wouldn't have caught it if Ebel hadn't told him to move back.
"I’m glad he mentioned that," Bourjos said afterward.
So was Pineiro, who got the win Monday but didn't pitch all that great, instead relying on a number of superb defensive plays from all the Angel fielders to scatter five hits and three walks. The sixth inning, in particular, was "hairy," as manager Mike Scioscia put it.
A scorching-hot Brennan Boesch singled to left to lead things off, and Pineiro walked Magglio Ordonez to bring up Cabrera. After Bourjos made the play on the Cabrera drive, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar combined on a top-notch double play to end the hazard.
Pineiro has always been a pitch-to-contact pitcher, as most sinker-ballers are. He freely admits that. But his job is easier, he says, when he can allow a fly ball to one of the deepest parts of Angel Stadium and still come away with an out. As he said after Monday's game, if the ball stays in the ballpark, Bourjos -- and even Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, the other Angel outfielders -- often have a good chance to make the catch.
"Peter has range out there that’s special," Scioscia said after the game. "I think what’s special is that that baseball was hit hard – it was a line drive – for him to get back and make that catch, for as shallow as he can [play] with a power hitter like Cabrera. That’s what Peter does.
"He has that range that’s a difference-maker, and it showed up tonight.”
In the 1151 major-league innings -- roughly 125 full games -- he's played in center field since he was first called up last August, Bourjos has recorded a total UZR/150 (an advanced fielding metric) of 24.5, which essentially means that, over 150 games, he would save 24.5 more runs than the average major-league center fielder. It would have been the best of any regular center fielder in the bigs last season and so far this year as well.
So, yes, Bourjos, 24, is a difference-maker in the field on a daily basis. But he said he felt even more of an urgency to make the play Monday, as a result of the circumstances.
Winners of nine of their last 11, the Angels are certainly streaking, but they were in serious danger of losing their 4-1 lead at the time Cabrera hit the deep drive off of Pineiro. And it wouldn't have taken much for the ball to drop and the outcome to change, reversing the Angels' fortunes.
Bourjos realized that.
"When I was going back on that ball and coming up on the wall, I felt like I had to make that play – just because of the time of the game and where we were at, with no outs and first and second," Bourjos said. "I felt like it was kind of do or die, which made it a lot easier."
Easier? Yes, easier.
"Easier because I didn’t have a choice in the matter," Bourjos said, laughing. "I was going to hit that wall."