Hernandez makes novelty play vs. Rays
Pitcher uses soccer skills to retire Johnson with kick
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Justin Morneau spent the majority of his childhood as a hockey goalie.On Wednesday, he recorded his first ever glove save -- in a baseball game. The Twins first baseman was on the receiving end of a spectacular kick-out of sorts, made by starting pitcher Livan Hernandez in the Twins' 4-2 victory over the Rays. The play occurred in the third inning, when Rays center fielder Elliot Johnson executed a drag bunt down the first-base line. Hernandez charged after the ball, but the timing made it virtually impossible for the right-hander to bend over, field the ball, and try to make a throw to first. So instead, Hernandez kicked the ball with the side of his right foot about 10 feet, straight into Morneau's glove, which was positioned just below the first baseman's knees, to record the out. "That's usually no goal in hockey if you kick it in," Morneau said with a laugh. "That was unbelievable." Morneau wasn't the only one who was left awestruck by the play. Hernandez's kick earned him a raucous ovation from the crowd at Hammond Stadium, and even the Rays showered him with applause and a few hat tips. "I was just thinking, 'I'm getting a hit or he's going to try to just like, I don't know, do a little flip at it,'" Johnson said of the play. "But then I see him kick it, and it just kind of put a smile on my face. What a play." Morneau said it was the first time he had ever seen that attempted, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he's seen balls kicked, but never had any of those plays been completed successfully. But it wasn't the first time that Hernandez had executed such a kick. The pitcher said he made a similar play last year in the regular season with the Diamondbacks and first baseman Tony Clark, also managed to catch the ball for the out. "Maybe one day I miss, but now I'm 2-for-2," Hernandez said. The play might not be one that many would expect from the right-hander pitcher, but he said it's those types of on-the-fly plays that he seems to enjoy the most. "I just try to play the game," he said. "A lot of people [don't] like the way I play. Everybody says I'm not a good athlete, I don't know. I think you've got to make some plays like that to make the game more easy. Hard way, easy way, whatever. Just try to make an out." Most of the credit for the play was given to Hernandez, but there were a few people who were equally amazed by Morneau's adeptness making the clean pick. "It was almost like he was holding the glove and saying kick it here," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't even know if he willed it there. It was kind of ESP at that point." The play was executed so perfectly that Morneau was asked after the game if the team intends to add that specific move into pitchers' fielding practice. "I don't think you want to practice that one," he said.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.