SAN DIEGO – Sonny Gray played an important role, and Byron Buxton, too. Carlos Correa gave the Twins some room, and Jhoan Duran helped make it stand up.
But don't overlook the athletic — well, that's probably not the right word — contribution of a 63-year-old veteran of 34 MLB seasons in the Twins' 7-4 victory over the Padres on Saturday.
Crew chief Jerry Layne pivoted to his left in the seventh inning, took a small but urgent hop, and made the defensive play of the game for the Twins, knocking down Jurickson Profar's all-but-certain game-tying single.
"He was our player of the game today," Correa joked of the hot-smash-with-a-happy-ending. "Jerry, he got smoked. And he was hurting after. He was telling me how much he was hurting. But it was good to get that break."
Yes, after a week of things going disastrously wrong, the Twins were delighted to receive a bizarre stroke of good luck, helping them end a three-game losing streak and widen their AL Central lead to two games over the Guardians. The umpire's unintentional collision with the baseball ended the play, allowed Profar to take first base and, far more importantly, prevented speedy C.J. Abrams, under MLB rule 5.05(b)(4), from scoring from second base and tying the 2-1 game, as he surely would have.
Profar gestured in disbelief, and the Petco Park crowd booed vociferously. And it only got worse when Griffin Jax entered the game and struck out Manny Machado and retired Eric Hosmer on a pop-up to end the inning with the Twins still ahead.
"That's a play that's completely out of our control. Did it end up being meaningful play in the game? Yeah," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Sometimes you can't get out of the way of the ball. I coached first base, and I know there are times where you're just going to have to wear it. The ball's coming quick."
The play may have done more than just snuff a Padres rally, at least as far as Correa was concerned.
"We built momentum off of that, for sure. It should have been a tie game, and all of a sudden we've got a lead and Jax comes in and puts up a great performance," Correa said. "And we start going crazy."
Seemingly energized by their incredible good fortune, the Twins immediately erupted with their biggest inning in two weeks, collecting five runs on five hits against relievers Adrian Morejon and Dinelson Lamet to avoid their first four-game losing streak of the season. Correa was in the middle of it, shaking off his three strikeouts against Padres starter Joe Musgrove to crush a home run over the center field wall against Morejon, driving in Luis Arraez ahead of him.
How relieved were the Twins to widen that lead? Arraez hugged Correa as he reached home plate.
"I guess he's a hugger," Correa said with a laugh. "I don't mind. He puts on a lot of cologne before the game, so he smells good."
Buxton homered for the second straight day and third time in four games, this time ricocheting a ball off the Western Metal Supply building in left field, a 434-foot blast off Musgrove that gives him 26 home runs on the season.
Gilberto Celestino and Jose Miranda added RBI singles during the big inning, and Nick Gordon bounced a ground-rule double into the seats to score Miranda. It was the largest inning the Twins have ever enjoyed at Petco Park, where they are now 7-2 in their history.
The game was a welcome respite from the daily blowups by Twins starting pitchers, who had given up a total of 21 runs in three games since Gray's last start. Gray was far from perfect — at least one runner reached base in each of his five innings — but he pitched out of trouble each time.
With one exception: A third-inning sinker to Manny Machado appeared well-placed on the inside corner, until the All-Star third baseman timed it perfectly. Machado's smash landed in the left-field seats almost 400 feet away, his second game in a row with a home run.
Gray threw only 79 pitches, but Baldelli chose to trust his bullpen with four innings and a one-run lead. Throwing errors in the sixth and seventh innings — one by Emilio Pagan and one by Correa — endangered that lead, but each time, the resulting runner advanced no farther than second base ... the latter case thanks to Layne's reflexes.