Before he became one of the most infamous examples of drug testing, Rafael Palmeiro was merely one of the great symbols of the sheer carelessness of Gold Glove voting. Back in 1999, Palmeiro played just 28 games at first base, but that didn't stop the electorate from declaring him a defensive wizard.
Palmeiro spent less than one-fifth of the season wearing a glove, but because Palmeiro had won the previous two awards and he still could hit, he effectively signed up for the automatic renewal program.
It made little sense to everybody who didn't have a ballot. It probably should be impossible to be considered the best at your position when a player only spend 246 1/3 innings on the field.
But Brent Lillibridge is making a case for how it could happen.
He has just 223 innings of outfield play to his name this year, but after robbing Coco Crisp of a go-ahead homer in Saturday's victory over Oakland, Lillibridge has now swung four games in his team's favor with incredible plays.
I look at the way Lillibridge has emerged as the team's best outfielder, and I see a little bit of Devin Hester's breakthrough back in 2006. Somebody who spends a relatively small amount of time on the field should never have that large of an impact on the game. Yet the action keeps finding him, he keeps making the most of it, and it gets harder and harder to chalk it up as a fluke.
Below the jump is a collection of game-altering plays that have made Lillibridge a defensive sensation, and if and when he comes up with another spectacular grab, this post will be updated.
What happened: Coco Crisp should have given the A's the lead when he hit a soaring flyball destined for the seats in left-center. But the wind held it up, and gave Lillibridge enough time to get back to the wall, leap straight up and grab the ball a foot and a half over the fence.
The situation: White Sox 0, Mariners 0, third inning, two outs, runner on first.
What happened: With speedy Greg Halman on first, Brendan Ryan hits a slicing liner to right center. Lillibridge figures out the direct route, sprints towards the spot and catch the ball as it tails away from him with a full-extension dive, saving a run.
What happened: Cabrera hits a deep drive to left that looks like trouble, because Juan Pierre certainly can't get to it. Lillibridge, however, comes screaming in from out of the picture and makes a sliding catch on the warning track, keeping the tying run at the plate, and not in scoring position. The amount of ground he covered was insane.
What happened: Lillibridge, who entered as a pinch-runner for Carlos Quentin the inning before, gets tested on a Rodriguez liner toward Yankee Stadium's short porch. Lillibridge runs it down, twists his body to keep his arm parallel to the wall, and catches the liner before crashing into the padding. The runners have to freeze.
The situation: White Sox 3, Yankees 2, two outs, runners on first and second, Robinson Cano at the plate.
What happened: One batter later, Cano goes down and gets a slider, pulling it into right field. Lillibridge gets a great jump on the sinking liner, throws his body at the ball and picks the ball before it hits the grass, ending the game. It's hard to look triumphant while eating turf, but Lillibridge pulls it off, which earns him plenty of real estate on Times Square tickers and newsstands.