CHICAGO — So often, Byron Buxton is involved in baseball feats so remarkable that they leave everyone around him in awe — so, of course, he’d be the one starting a play that was quite possibly the first of its kind.
During the seventh inning of the Twins’ 6-3 win over the White Sox in 10 innings at Guaranteed Rate Field, Buxton tracked down a deep fly ball at the right-center field wall on the run and threw into the infield, where third baseman Gio Urshela put out a pair of unaware Chicago baserunners to complete the first 8-5 triple play on record in AL/NL history, according to the SABR database that tracks every triple play dating back to 1876.
“I don’t know how much more stuff can be a first in MLB history, so at least it was something left for us in the middle age to kind of grab, I guess,” Buxton said with a smile. “It’s cool. Ain’t too much thought into it other than the triple play got us out of the inning and it kind of got us a little momentum going.”
The feat also marked the 16th triple play in Twins history, and the second involving only two players, joining a 2-6 triple play that occurred back on July 25, 1976 — also against the White Sox.
With lead runner Adam Engel on second base and trail runner Yoán Moncada on first, White Sox left fielder AJ Pollock crushed a fly ball to right-center off Twins reliever Griffin Jax. Buxton covered 87 feet for a tricky running catch just in front of the outfield wall on a ball that carried an expected batting average of .820, according to Statcast.
As Buxton and right fielder Max Kepler converged in the gap, Kepler kept yelling “wall” – and crucially, Buxton briefly took his eye off the ball to gauge his proximity to the wall before looking back up to track the ball into his glove.
That’s something that might not have happened earlier in Buxton’s career. In the past, Buxton would often go full-speed into the wall on those plays, sacrificing his body as part of those game-changing efforts. But recently, in part due to the influence of Carlos Correa and other teammates, Buxton has often made sure to look for the wall on such plays, emphasizing self-preservation.
It worked perfectly. Buxton corralled the ball a few feet shy of the wall, timed his slowdown, and braced himself against the wall with two hands.
“You know you’re going to hit the wall, but I actually had an extra step and I recognized that ahead of time, which allowed me to kind of push myself off the fence … and get a little extra on the throw,” Buxton said.
Buxton immediately wheeled and unleashed a throw toward the infield, where both Engel and Moncada had briefly held up before putting their heads down and running hard, evidently unaware that the ball had settled into Buxton’s glove.
Remember where we mentioned that Buxton had briefly taken his eye off the ball to look for the wall? This is where that becomes critical.
Engel assumed Buxton’s glance at the wall meant the center fielder had missed the ball and that it was landing for a hit. That’s when he took off for third base. Moncada had already been running behind him, apparently having made a similar judgment.
“When he looked toward the wall, I thought he was looking for the ball to go down,” Engel said. “I just made a bad play. Made a mistake on it. Unfortunate. It cost us some runs right there, most likely, and probably would have gone on to win the game.”
“Yoán was really aggressive, which is not the worst thing you can do when you play this game,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. “Judgment was wrong and costly.”
By the time Buxton’s throw reached the infield, both runners were in the proximity of third base.
“With Buck, you’ve got to wait until the end,” Urshela said. “Buck can go, go, go.”
Once the Twins saw the ball disappear into Buxton’s glove, they realized that the White Sox runners were extremely out of position. They realized a triple play was not only feasible, but likely.
They were just confused as to how, exactly, they would get it done.
Considering that the infielders were engaged with the baserunners, Jax and catcher Ryan Jeffers were trying to direct traffic. Backing up home plate, Jax started pointing and yelling about second base, sprinting in that general direction. Jeffers, meanwhile, ran down the first-base line and yelled and pointed toward first.
“Hoping to make sure everybody knows, triple play,” Jeffers said. “That was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I didn’t know where Gio was,” Jax said. “Kind of lost track of him. So I was just trying to back up. Saw the throw sail over Carlos’ head, so I just wanted to be there just in case.”
Though Buxton’s throw missed both cutoff men and bounced several times into Urshela’s glove as he stood halfway between second and third, that actually put the third baseman in perfect position to turn the unique triple play. Moncada was directly in front of him, an easy tag-out for the second out, and Urshela ran the ball back to second base, tripling Engel off as he watched helplessly from third base.