ST. PETERSBURG -- Not often do you see an 8-3 double play, and perhaps even less often after the “8” crashes into a wall.
Then again, Byron Buxton isn’t an ordinary center fielder.
“He can do things that other people just can’t do,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after Sunday's 9-7 win over the Rays. “He makes these plays look sometimes … not easy, but he makes them without extraordinary Buck-type effort.
“You run out of superlatives for the guy because he can do so many things.”
Twins starter Jake Odorizzi cruised through the third inning with little trouble thanks to his speedy outfielder. Rays slugger Austin Meadows had just laced a one-out single when the next hitter, Yandy Diaz, stroked a solid knock all the way to the wall in straightaway center field at Tropicana Field.
The roar of the crowd suggested they thought it would land beyond the padded wall for a two-run homer; judging by the lead Meadows took, he did as well. Both were fairly surprised when Buxton -- an American League Gold Glove Award winner in 2017 -- tracked it perfectly, caught it while colliding with the wall and then came up firing to first base.
“I told [Buxton] after I was done pitching, that was the point of the game that was the turning point,” Odorizzi said. “If that ball drops, goes over the fence, whatever it may be, it’s one thing, but then to make the throw after that, it’s just very deflating to them.
“Minimizing what they had going and to do it in that fashion was more disheartening for them and more exhilarating for us.”
Meadows wheeled around and headed back to first, but he had no chance. First baseman CJ Cron snapped up Buxton’s on-target toss, measured by Statcast at 97.1 mph and more than 300 feet, while Meadows was still several feet shy to end the inning.
The catch wasn’t Buxton’s only applause-worthy play during his 2-for-4 afternoon.
Buxton’s sweet snag put a little pep in his step, enough so that after he singled during the Twins’ four-run fifth, he stole second then advanced to third on the ensuing throwing error. It set the stage for a perfect safety squeeze from Jorge Polanco, who tapped a dribbler forward to the edge of the batting circle. Buxton dove home just under pitcher Ryan Yarborough’s flip to push the Twins’ lead to 4-0.
“It was just one of those things where if you’re confident, you’re confident,” Buxton said. “You feel comfortable and try to do what you can to get a run across.”