MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins’ power-hitting ways have put them on the map this season, but their play in the field is another big reason they currently have the best record in baseball.
On Friday, the Twins had a 5-4 lead on the White Sox with one out in the fourth inning and Chicago had runners on first and second when Jose Abreu’s grounder to first baseman C.J. Cron was turned into a (not easy to turn) 3-4-3 double play. The Twins scored three more runs in the fourth to take a commanding 8-4 lead en route to an 11-4 victory.
On Saturday, the Twins’ Web Gem came with White Sox runners on first and second and one out in the top of the first inning. Chicago catcher James McCann hit a line drive toward right field on which Marwin Gonzalez made a highlight-worthy diving catch.
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Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson then struck out Eloy Jimenez to retire the White Sox. The Twins got two runs in the bottom of the first on a C.J. Cron double and were on their way to an 8-1 victory. The Twins’ latest offensive output made it easy to forget Gonzalez’s play by the time the 3-hour, 16-minute game was finished, but Gibson hadn’t forgotten. He waited to congratulate Gonzalez after the inning ended and was happy to talk about the play in his postgame press conference.
“That was a big out,” said Gibson, who gave up one run and five hits with nine strikeouts in seven innings. “I think we were shading (McCann) a little bit to go (opposite field), and the ball died in front of him. He’s played more outfield recently, but a guy that doesn’t play out there every day, that’s a really confident play to make.
“Obviously, he’s played a lot of right field and left field and all over, but to have the confidence to dive in the gap like that and make a good read, that was worth waiting around and making sure he understands how much we appreciate that. We made a lot of really good plays today, but that might be the biggest one that probably switched and kept this game from getting out of control early.”
Actually, Gibson wasn’t right about Gonzalez playing a lot of right field in his eight-year major league career. Gonzalez, signed by the Twins in late February and known for his versatility during his seven years with the Houston Astros, opened the season primarily playing in place of the injured Miguel Sano at third base.
But Rocco Baldelli always planned to use Gonzalez at multiple positions and on May 14 the Twins manager gave him his first start in right field. Gonzalez had played the position before but he was more comfortable in left.
Nonetheless, Gonzalez made the big play Saturday.
“I would say the most difficult thing (about right field) is the line drives toward the line from the righthanded hitters because it’s going a different way than left field,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the toughest one. … Especially in this ballpark because we don’t have much room to go. We have probably like 5 feet from the line to the fans so that’s kind of tough.”
Gonzalez said his decision to dive — a move that would have given Chicago at least two runs if it hadn’t worked — was done partially based on the fact he knew speedy center fielder Byron Buxton would get to the ball quickly if he missed. But Gonzalez admitted he did not make the decision to stretch out for the ball until the last second.
“It was late because it was really tough to see the ball today,” he said. “It was really bright, the stands were like really bright, too. So it was kind of tough to see the ball the moment it was making contact with the bat.”
A look at Baseball Reference showed the 30-year-old Gonzalez has played first base, second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield spots at various times. Gonzalez is hitting .239/.316/.371 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 43 games, but any struggles he has had at the plate haven’t affected him in the field.
“He works hard to do everything he does,” Baldelli said. “He moves around the field, he does a lot of different things. He takes a lot of pride in what he does. We were commenting on, we get in late, we’re tired. We have an optional (batting practice) sessions and who is out there running around, getting a look around and getting his work in, it’s him. Wherever we have put him he has gone out there and has performed. He prepares well and he brings it into the game. He’s a pro.”
Gonzalez showed that again on Saturday.