Jesus Cruz fell just short of qualifying for the win in Class A Peoria's 13-4 rout of Burlington on Wednesday at Dozer Park. But he sure got credit for a save.
The right-hander walked off the mound after allowing an RBI single in the top of the fifth inning. He stood an out from a potential win -- the Chiefs had a 7-2 lead -- but was still upbeat after getting a pat from manager Chris Swauger after striking out nine.
As he headed toward the dugout, a bird flew right at the 23-year-old Mexican. Startled, Cruz reached and plucked it out of the air. The creature fell to the ground, where Cruz scooped it up and nestled it in his glove.
Video: Peoria's Cruz corrals bird
"I wasn't scared at all," Cruz said through interpreter and Chiefs infielder Yariel Gonzalez. "I just saw it and the bird landed in my hand and I just kept walking."
Cruz looked up to the sky, made several signs of the cross in an attempt to bless the bird, then picked it out of its makeshift nest.
"It was a just blessing," Cruz, who is Catholic, said of the gesture. "It's not very often something like that happens. I was just thanking God for everything and the bird in hand, too, and thanking him for a good game."
Gameday box score
To the delight of Cruz -- and the crowd of 6,692 -- the bird floated onto Cruz's cap, perched for a moment and flew off into the Central Illinois night, probably wondering what just happened.
"I was happy to see the bird flew away [because] I thought he was hurt," Cruz said. "When the bird landed, I just picked him up because I like animals and I took advantage of that."
Cruz struck out nine but needed 89 pitches, allowing two runs on five hits and three walks. He said he wanted to earn the win and was disappointed to come out, although the move wasn't unexpected since he'd thrown so many pitches.
"I respect the [manager's] decision," he said. "I was just happy to have a good game."
All else seemed anticlimatic.
Paul Balestrieri (5-3) finished up for the win, giving up two runs on five hits while fanning five.
Peoria scored six times in the third, with Julio Rodriguez delivering the big blow with a two-run triple. Cards No. 27 prospect Elehuris Montero singled in a run and Bryce Denton also had an RBI single.
The Chiefs added two runs in the sixth on Nick Plummer's fifth homer and Rodriguez's RBI grounder. They pulled away with four in the seventh, keyed by Montero's bases-loaded walk and Yariel Gonzalez 's RBI single.
Bees starter Luis Madero (2-7) took the loss after surrendering seven runs -- six earned -- on six hits in 2 2/3 innings. Connor Fitzsimons doubled, singled twice and drove in two runs for Burlington.