DETROIT -- The Twins collected 16 hits en route to their season-high sixth straight win on Friday, taking the lead for the second American League Wild Card spot in the process. But it was Minnesota's defense that stole the show in its 9-4 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Center fielder Byron Buxton makes spectacular plays look so easy in center field, they begin to feel routine. But even Buxton couldn't help but get excited after making a diving catch to rob Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera in the fourth inning. And right fielder Max Kepler got into the action with a leaping catch at the wall to help start an inning-ending double play in the eighth.
"The defense was big," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "Buck got turned around on that ball, and the spin kind of brought it back to his other shoulder, and somehow he made the adjustment, which is phenomenal. And the ball hit out there to right, it just kept carrying. And somehow Kep tracked it down and made the play even with the wall creeping up on him."
With one out in the fourth, Cabrera hit a rocket into center field off right-hander Kyle Gibson, but Buxton tracked it down despite initially turning the wrong direction. He emerged with an unbelievable diving catch toward right field near the warning track, a projected 411 feet from home plate.
"As hard as he hit it, I thought it was going to stay straight," Buxton said. "But I took a glance at the wall, and once I looked back, I realized it was on [the left] side of my shoulder. I had a little bit of time to turn my head back the other way and pick the ball back up."
Because he turned the wrong way initially as part of his route, Buxton was credited with a three-star catch, per Statcast™, as he needed 4.6 seconds to race 71 feet to make the play, giving it a catch probability of 65 percent. That data is based simply on the time and distance needed to make the play, and doesn't account for how hard the ball was hit or the direction it was heading. The ball was scorched, however, leaving the bat at 109.2 mph with a launch angle of 19 degrees, giving it a hit probability of 86 percent.
As Buxton got up, he couldn't help but let out a yell while pumping his fist into his glove in celebration. All Gibson could do was watch in awe from the pitcher's mound as Buxton made yet another outstanding play.
"I don't want to say that nothing he does surprises us anymore, but man, he makes so many good plays you kind of get used to it," Gibson said. "But that was pretty cool to watch him make that adjustment there right at the end and leap and catch that and save a double, maybe a triple."
Buxton is tied for third in the Majors in three-star catches, converting 17 of his 19 chances. He's also second with 19 four-star catches in 20 tries. Kepler ranks second in three-star grabs with 19, and his athletic play in the eighth was pivotal, robbing John Hicks of extra bases with two on and one out before getting Nicholas Castellanos at third as he tried to tag from second.
"That was a game-saving catch," Buxton said. "Kep went up and made a heck of a play. He also turned around and got us out of a tough inning. That was tremendous."
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.