The catch was so exceptional, and perhaps so impactful, Mark Contreras decided it deserved a flourish. Still sitting on the warning track, his back touching the center field wall, Contreras fired the ball toward the infield with defiance before getting to his feet, as though saying, “Get this puny thing out of here!”
That’s how it happened, right?
“Well, honestly, I hit the wall and kind of forgot how many outs there were. I was thinking, ‘Get the ball in!’ ” Contreras explained a bit sheepishly of his run-saving fifth-inning catch. “I threw it as fast as I could, and then I saw guys jogging in, and I was like, ‘Oh. OK.’ “
Still, it was a remarkable catch and perhaps the most notable contribution thus far by the rookie outfielder playing in his fourth big-league game. The Twins led by two runs at the time, and with C.J. Cron standing on first base with two outs, not making the play on Elehuris Montero’s 401-foot fly ball would have made it a 5-4 game with the tying run in scoring position.
Contreras gave credit to outfield coach Tommy Watkins, “who shifted me into the gap right before that pitch. If it wasn’t for him getting me into a better position, I wouldn’t have had a shot at that ball.”
Instead, the 27-year-old Californian hustled back a couple dozen steps to the warning track, spun around as the ball came down, and leapt at the ball — perhaps a bit early.
“I peeked toward the wall to see how many more steps I had. And once I looked back, I just made a decision — I’m jumping now,” Contreras said. “I think I had another step. But I took my eyes off of it to see the wall, and once I turned back, it was right on me.”
His teammates cheered the catch, and several, including starting pitcher Joe Ryan, waited at the dugout steps to congratulate him.
“It was awesome. It saved a run, and if I don’t catch it, maybe that inning is different,” Contreras said. “It was cool at the dugout. Joe Ryan really appreciated it, so that was nice.”
Contreras himself seemed a little dazed as he realized what he had done. And he wasn’t the only one.
“I was dazed with excitement,” manager Rocco Baldelli joked.
But the rookie figured he had no choice but to make the catch. “My dad says, if it hits your glove, you’ve got to catch it. I try to live up to that,” he said of the catch he rates “at the top” of all plays he’s ever made. “I mean, it’s in the big leagues. It’s No. 1, honestly. For now, anyway.”
Smith to injured list
Joe Smith had thrown on back-to-back days three times before, but the difficult innings against Cleveland on Wednesday and Thursday were different. He felt tightness in the muscle behind his shoulder, and it hadn’t gone away after a couple of days.
On Sunday, the Twins decided they can’t wait, not with 11 games in the next 10 days including a doubleheader on Tuesday. The team placed the 38-year-old righthander on the 15-day injured list with trapezius tightness and called up lefthander Jovani Moran from Class AAA St. Paul to replace him.
“I was just hoping to be able to bounce back,” Smith said. “It’ll be hard [to sit out], but with all the work we’re getting, I can’t be sitting there not able to take the ball. Where we’re at right now, that’s not fair to [the bullpen].”
Winder to start Tuesday
Righthander Josh Winder will be added to the Twins’ roster as the 27th player allowed for doubleheaders, Baldelli said, though the team hasn’t determined which game he will start.