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words // Brennan Hiro Williams

A new, dynamic era is arising in professional baseball, with scores of amazing plays in 2011 to prove it. Emerging teams and tight pennant races led to inspired performances throughout the season, from defensive wizardry to hulking home runs. 11 moments in particular stood out, each causing us to react audibly, physically and emotionally, team allegiances notwithstanding.

Here are the top 11 plays from 2011:

11. Prince Fielder Hits the Longest Drive of the Season

Entering the final year of his contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, lofty expectations were placed the left-handed slugger in 2011. Fielder responded with one of his finest seasons to date, tallying 120 RBIs, one of which came on this mammoth shot off of Houston pitcher Brett Myers. Wearing a player edition version of the Nike Air Show Elite 2, the Brutal Vegetarian launched the Myers changeup a legitimate 486 feet into the Minute Maid park upper deck, obliterating the popcorn bucket of a surprised Astro’s fan.

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10. Jeff Francoeur’s Rail Gun Assist

Over the course of his seven year career, Jeff Francoeur consistently displays superiority in one specific skill – the outfield assist. Ranging to his glove side on an Alex Avila single, Francoeur planted in his Under Armour cleats and uncorked a perfect, Tom Emanski-approved laser throw into the glove of Mike Moustakas (wearing the Reebok Pro Cooperstown Low Zig), nailing an advancing Jhonny Peralta.

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9. Chase Utley’s Inside-The-Park Home Run Dash

Even during an injury-shortened season, Chase Utley continued to use a fantastic all-around game to produce runs for the vaunted Philadelphia Phillies offense. On a night game against league rival San Francisco, Utley drove a Barry Zito offering off of the wall in left-center field, creating a funky rebound that prompted Juan Samuel to frantically wave Utley in for one of baseball’s more rare occurrences – the inside-the-park home run. One of the most efficient baserunners in the game, Utley wheeled around the diamond in his Adidas baseball cleats, diving past Eli Whiteside to beat the throw home.

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8. Sam Fuld Soars in Right Field

“Super” Sam Fuld captured the hearts of Tampa Bay Rays fans in the first half of 2011, using scrappy defense and timely hitting to keep the Rays afloat in the American League East. Wearing Nike baseball cleats, Fuld embraced his comic book nickname on a game against the Chicago White Sox, soaring through the air to rob Juan Pierre of a bases loaded triple.

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7. Andrew McCutchen Owns The Gap

Andrew McCutchen stepped up and took the reigns of an improving Pittsburgh Pirates team in 2011. Batting third, McCutchen finished the season with the eighth 20-20 campaign in team history. His defense impressed just as much, especially on a night in New York while patrolling center at spacious Citi Field. Reacting quickly off of a Jason Bay fly ball, McCutchen entered a full sprint, covering a ridiculous amount of ground to make a sliding grab at the wall. McCutchen showed the ball and the soles of his Nike Swingman Remix 2 player edition cleats to the camera, briefly taking in the moment with all of us.

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6. Longoria Wins the Wild-Card on a Wild Night

The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays entered the final day of the season tied in the AL Wild-Card race, following dramatic streaks by both teams. After a stunning seven run rally to tie the score, the Rays and Yankees entered the 12th inning of a spirited game, pushing the contest into the wee hours at Tropicana Field. Only minutes after Robert Andino crushed the dreams of Red Sox Nation, Rays superstar Evan Longoria dug his Nike Shox Gamers into the box against Yankees reliever Scott Proctor. With one crack of the bat, Longoria sent baseball fans around the world into a frenzy, capping off one of the craziest days in Major League Baseball history.

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Stay tuned for the top 5 plays…

Photos via Y! Sports