DETROIT – Kyle Gibson could only grin, shake his head and say, “Wow.” Byron Buxton made a preposterous diving catch Friday night on the center field warning track at Comerica Park, jumping toward the rapidly approaching wall, gloving the ball and somersaulting into the padding, a magic trick that appeared even to amaze the magician.
His first thought? “How did I catch that?” Buxton said. “That’s one of those plays where you go all out and whatever happens, happens.”
Here’s another astonishing thing that happened Friday: The Twins, seemingly a hopeless cause just a week ago, pulled into the final AL playoff spot after the Angels beat Seattle 6-5 a couple of hours later. Eddie Rosario crushed a three-run homer, Max Kepler bashed a two-run shot, and the Twins extended their longest winning streak in two years to six games — and earned win No. 200 for manager Paul Molitor — with a 9-4 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park.
“The guys are excited. We had to dig a little bit tonight,” said Molitor, who wasn’t aware of his milestone until it was secured. “I don’t think [200 wins] is anything to brag about, when the losses are higher. It’s kind of crept up on me, I guess.”
The Twins aren’t creeping up on anyone these days — they’re charging up the standings, passing Tampa Bay in the wild-card standings Friday, just as they have the Angels, Orioles and Royals in the past week. Not since Aug. 20-26, 2015, have the Twins reeled off a half-dozen consecutive wins.
A resurgent offense, the sudden solidification of a reliable bullpen, and a defense — not just Buxton, either — that can pull outs out of thin air have powered the Twins back into the playoff picture.
Afterward, though, the clubhouse chatter wasn’t about the streak, or Molitor’s 200th. It was about the center fielder, who turned the wrong way when Miguel Cabrera pummeled a fourth-inning sinker, suddenly changed course at top speed, then dived toward the wall with arm outstretched.
“It’s really hard for me to place value on how much he’s contributed to our team, even with a year where he’s trying to grow offensively,” Molitor said. “He just brings a presence to our club when we get on the defensive side that we just can’t match with any other personnel out there.”
After trailing 1-0, Rosario’s fourth-inning blast into the Tigers’ bullpen off Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez, one of his three hits on the night, led to a 3-1 Twins advantage. An inning later, Kepler followed a Brian Dozier single by turning on a high fastball from Sanchez and rocketing a liner four rows deep into right field.
Dozier also tripled home a run in the seventh, and scored himself when Kepler singled up the middle. Joe Mauer drove home two more in the ninth with a bases-loaded single.
And Kepler contributed with the glove, too, making a jumping catch at the warning track in the eighth, then turning it into a double play when Nick Castellanos made an ill-advised sprint to third.
“That was a game-saving catch,” said Buxton, the savant complimenting the maestro. “Kep went up and made a heck of a play, got us out of a tough inning. That’s tremendous. That’s what we want to do as an outfield.”