The liner off Twins leadoff man Luis Arraez’s bat was sinking, and the winning streak was in jeopardy for the Red Sox.
But left fielder Alex Verdugo swooped in for a diving catch that made for a pulsating end to a 3-2 victory for the surging Sox in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Target Field.
Though the stakes were much lower, the catch looked eerily similar to the one former Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi made to end Game 4 against the Astros in the 2018 American League Championship Series.
Just like that, the surging Sox secured their eighth win in a row — the longest winning streak in the Majors thus far this season.
Did the catch create memories of Benintendi’s epic grab for those who were in the dugout to witness both?
“Of course,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “That was a great play by Alex.”
For all the talk of how the homegrown outfield trio of Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts departed from Boston much sooner than anyone could have expected, Cora is confident in the players he currently slots in there.
With this group, there is no set alignment. Some days, Verdugo is in center. Some days, he is in right. Other times, he plays left. He started Game 1 of the doubleheader in center, only to move to left after Kiké Hernández came on as a late-game substitute.
As Verdugo said a few days ago, he is an outfielder, rather than being designated by a certain spot in the outfield.
“That’s what we talk about with our defense in the outfield,” Cora said. “You guys talk about moving guys around late in games. We pinch-hit with [Hernández] for Franchy [Cordero], and our defense is still good. Alex had a great jump and made the right decision and he caught the ball.”
The liner that Verdugo snared wasn’t the first anxious moment in that wild bottom of the seventh.
One batter earlier, Miguel Sanó lashed one down the line in left that had game-tying double written all over it. But it went just foul. Matt Barnes went on to strike out Sanó, then secured the save when Verdugo saved him.
“I can talk about a lot of things that happened today. It wasn’t a perfect game for us,” Cora said. “We’re good, but we have to keep playing the game. We left a lot of runners on base. We didn’t cash in. And it came down to a great play by Alex. We’ll take it, of course. But we have to keep working and keep getting better.”
Aside from Verdugo’s snag, the key to the game was strong situational hitting by the Sox in the top of the second inning, when they scratched rather than battered their way to a three-run rally against tough Twins righty Kenta Maeda.
With runners on first and second and nobody out and a run already in, Kevin Plawecki did something rarely seen in the early innings in the American League these days. He dropped down a sacrifice bunt.
Maeda was so thrown by it that he picked up the ball and fired it into left field instead of his target of third base. Hunter Renfroe, who had an RBI single earlier in the inning, roared in to score.
“Sense of urgency,” Cora said. “You get the lead, and with Nate [Eovaldi] on the mound, it’s a 7-inning game and it’s different. Kevin did a good job, Maeda threw the ball away, we scored three runs in that inning and that was all we needed today to win the game.”
Well, that, and one clutch catch by Verdugo.