The Twins’ recent late-innings drama escalated into the history books over the course of this last week, with the club becoming the first ever to win consecutive walk-offs after losing consecutive walk-offs -- and then becoming the first ever to turn an 8-5 triple play.
In this edition of the Twins Beat Newsletter, I’ll pull back the curtain to a neat backstory to the latter that was meaningful enough to a Twins pitcher that he asked us to hang around following the conclusion of an interview so that he could share the story.
Following the Twins’ chaotic 8-5 triple play in the seventh inning of Monday’s victory over the White Sox -- the first of its kind in MLB history -- the first thing reliever Griffin Jax did when he returned to the dugout was to seek out Byron Buxton -- not to talk about the ridiculousness that had just transpired, but to remind him of a play from a month and a half earlier.
On May 23, Jax was on the mound protecting a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning against the Tigers when rookie Spencer Torkelson rocketed a line drive to the gap in right-center field. Buxton gave chase and leapt at the wall -- but the ball hit off the end of his glove and fell for a double.
Torkelson eventually scored. The Twins won anyway, 5-4. But the play evidently lingered in Buxton’s memory long after the game ended, because Jax’s phone pinged after 1 a.m. with a mea culpa text from his center fielder.
“Regardless of how tough it is, if it touched my glove, I feel like I should catch it,” Buxton said. “I think that inning, some runners scored, and that really felt like it was on me because if I caught the ball, that [would] kind of limit that inning a little bit. As a pitcher, it’s their ERA, but I’m playing behind you. It’s like my ERA, too.
“It’s one of those just letting him know, like, not necessarily sorry, just I didn’t have your back tonight, and it won’t happen again.”
Jax was taken aback by Buxton’s gesture.
“The humility on that guy, first off, is unbelievable,” Jax said following Monday’s game. “Best center fielder in baseball. And two, I texted him right back and said, 'Dude, you know how much of a blessing it is for us to have Byron Buxton in center field? I will take whatever you give us that day, no matter what.' I texted him, I said, 'I know there's going to be a play later in the season where you're going to save my butt.' And look what happened tonight."
Look what happened, indeed. It was a similar fly ball to right-center, sharply hit, a tricky play by any stretch. Buxton corralled this one at the wall -- it had carried an expected batting average of .820 -- before quickly spinning to throw the ball into the infield, starting a play that will live on in baseball history.
That text exchange between Jax and Buxton had proved prescient -- spectacularly so.
“Not necessarily apologizing -- just more so, ‘Next time, I’ve got your back,’” Buxton said. “It’s a different type of bond we’ve got in here, the chemistry. It’s something that we kind of took accountability, responsibility within ourselves to make sure that we pick each other up. It allows us to come to the ballpark each and every day and just have fun.”