CINCINNATI -- Willi Castro didn’t even have time to put away the little laminated card that tells him where to position himself before he made one of the Twins’ defensive plays of the year.
Still holding the slip of paper in his right hand, Castro launched himself from the center-field warning track at Great American Ball Park and reached his glove over the fence to rob Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson of a two-run blast -- his second highlight-reel grab to help the Twins preserve the shutout in a 7-0 victory that reduced Minnesota’s magic number to three.
Castro hadn’t even been aware of the extra style points in the moment -- but apparently, having the card in his hand is almost an unconscious action for him, because he still held it as he addressed the media after the game.
"I didn't really know [about the card],” Castro said. “Pablo [López] was the one that told me, ‘You had your card in your hand!’ And then I recognized that I had it in my hand to see where I should play him. It was too late. I saw, like, the [ball] pop up, so I went back and I had a good read.”
Not only did Castro rob that homer, but earlier in the game -- also with Stephenson at the plate -- Castro prevented two runs from scoring with a sliding grab in center field, stranding Cincinnati runners on second and third. That earned the everlasting gratitude of Twins starter Kenta Maeda, who threw five scoreless innings with Castro’s help.
“I want to give him as many hugs as possible,” Maeda said through interpreter Dai Sekizaki.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Castro also added two runs on offense with a homer in the seventh off Cincinnati reliever Ben Lively.
It might very well have felt to the Reds like Castro singlehandedly swung the outcome of Tuesday’s game with his contributions on both sides of the ball.
“Really, he took four runs off the board tonight,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Those were big plays. It’s amazing how a play like that can change absolutely everything in a game. It affects how we manage the rest of the game [and] the way they do. It changes all kinds of things.”
The Twins would have loved to have Byron Buxton in center field this year, but unfortunately for both the team and Buxton, that hasn’t panned out.
But Minnesota’s offseason quest for depth has undeniably paid off: Michael A. Taylor is threatening for a 20-20 season and even committed a similar home run robbery in Monday’s series opener, and Castro has inarguably been one of the Twins’ most valuable players throughout the campaign with his defensive versatility and baserunning acumen.
“I felt Willi took the momentum on that defensive play and then the next at-bat with the two-run homer,” acting Twins manager Jayce Tingler said. “I can’t say enough good things about what Willi has done this year. He had a fantastic night.”