Before making the defensive play of the day in the seventh inning of Wednesday’s Game 1 victory over the Twins, Alex Verdugo had a feeling the ball was going to come his way.
With two outs in the final inning of the day cap of Wednesday’s doubleheader, the Twins had put the tying run on base when Jake Cave drew a leadoff walk off Red Sox closer Matt Barnes.
Cave also managed to steal second, which put the tying run in a 3-2 contest in scoring position as leadoff man Luis Arraez was due to hit for Minnesota.
The left-handed hitting Arraez had already hit two balls to the left side of the field, which gave Verdugo — who had shifted from center to left field in the sixth — something to think about.
On a 3-1, 86 mph curveball from Barnes, the Twins third baseman swatted a screaming line-drive with an exit velocity of 95.5 mph in Verdugo’s direction.
Verdugo had been playing relatively deep in left field at that moment, so he was forced to charge towards the ball, which was dying quickly and on the verge of landing on a soft patch of grass.
In a matter of seconds, the 24-year-old left his feet, dove head-first, made the proper adjustments, and snagged Arraez’s liner with his Mexican flag-inspired glove all before the ball hit the ground.
Per Baseball Savant, Verdugo had just a 29% chance of making that clutch, game-sealing catch, but he made it look relatively simple all things considered.
One reason behind that would be because Verdugo anticipated making that highlight play well before it actually happened.
“It was actually weird because it’s one of those plays that you think about right before it happens,” Verdugo explained when speaking with reporters Wednesday night. “And it just so happens that it was exactly what I had thought about. I knew the hitter, I knew that he’s been hitting line drives that way and likes to go oppo. So I was kind of already on edge knowing that Barnesy’s throwing hard and going to get after him.
“It was just one of those ones, man,” he continued. “It kind of manifested into my mind, and it came out. We made the play and held onto it. Any game we get a W and clinch one and don’t have to go to extras or waste any more arms, it’s a huge day.”
The diving catch Verdugo made at Target Field on Wednesday afternoon was reminiscent of the one former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi one made at Minute Maid Park to seal a Game 4 victory for Boston in the 2018 ALCS.
What was at stake in the games these catches were made in differs drastically, obviously, but the catches themselves were similar to one person who saw both of them up-close in Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
“Of course,” Cora said when asked if Verdugo’s grab on Wednesday reminded him of Benintendi’s now-famous catch. “That was a great play by Alex.”
The fact that Verdugo was in left field to make that play in the first place was Cora’s doing. As previously mentioned, the Arizona native started out in center field in Game 1 and eventually moved over to left after Kiké Hernández pinch-hit for Franchy Cordero in the sixth.
“That’s why we talk about our defense in the outfield,” said the Sox skipper. “You guys talk about moving guys around late in games. We pinch-hit with Enrique (Hernández) for Franchy and our defense is still good. Alex had a great jump and made the right decision and he caught the ball.”
By the time Wednesday’s doubleheader had ended and the Sox had wrapped up their ninth consecutive win, Verdugo had played all three outfield positions in one day, as he started Game 2 in right field.
It was not too long ago when it looked like Verdugo would be Boston’s everyday centerfielder in 2021, but he has now played every outfield position at least four times since the season began earlier this month.
For Verdugo, not having an everyday position comes as a welcome challenge as he is showing that he can play left, center, and right field at a high level regardless of the opponent or ballpark.
“I feel like at this point now, there shouldn’t really be any questions about versatility or playing any of the different positions at a lower level,” Verdugo said. “I feel like I hold myself to a high standard out there, and I hold it to a high standard in right, center, and left with making plays and throwing people out. So I don’t see any difference with the position.”
(Picture of Matt Barnes and Alex Verdugo: AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)