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Christian Vázquez comes through on both sides of the ball in Twins’ win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Christian Vázquez was eager for another opportunity to prove himself. Up with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Vázquez had a chance to break things open for his team. Instead, he bounced into a double play.

He more than made up for it in the later innings of Saturday’s game, both offensively and defensively, helping lift the Twins to a 5-1 win in the second game of the season-opening series against the Kansas City Royals.

“It was hard. I don’t run fast,” Vázquez said. “I’m slow. But yeah, the second time, I was trying to make it happen, and I made it.”

Up for a second time with runners on base late, Vázquez delivered, singling home Ryan Jeffers to give the Twins (2-0) the lead for good in the ninth inning. But that hit might not have even been the catcher’s biggest moment of the game.

In between his two at-bats, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Vázquez started getting his redemption. Locked in a tied game, he caught a pitch from Griffin Jax and threw a dart down to shortstop Carlos Correa.

The throw led Correa right to Royals star Bobby Witt Jr., who was attempting to steal. Correa laid down the tag to neutralize the threat, turning a potentially dangerous situation for the Twins with a speedy runner in scoring position into a much less stressful one.

“I put it on the money,” Vázquez said. “That’s it.”

He sure did.

“Almost anyone in the ballpark watching knows that Bobby Witt is trying to take that bag. He’s a good baserunner, he’s explosive, and even when you know he may be going, sometimes there’s not a lot you can do about it,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Vazky popped up, got rid of that thing so quickly, threw it. … A moment that could have easily turned the game in their favor, and we made a play. We made a great play, and that’s all Vazky right there.”

The catcher’s big throw helped turn the momentum in the Twins’ direction, and his big hit help make sure it stayed that way. That, and three more runs in the ninth, thanks to an Alex Kirilloff sacrifice fly and Byron Buxton’s second double of the day, which brought home a pair of runners.

The first double, a ball Buxton chopped over third baseman Maikel Garcia’s head, brought home Edouard Julien, to tie the game up in the eighth inning. Buxton turned on the jets, getting an extra base on what looked like a routine single to left.

Buxton said he never took his eyes off the third baseman on the play and when he saw him leap, knowing how slowly the ball was hit, it was a no-brainer to race to second.

“He speeds the game up on literally everyone,” Baldelli said. “It shouldn’t look that fast.”

The late offense came in a game that the Twins were held quiet for much of. Royals starter Seth Lugo threw six scoreless frames against the Twins, limiting them to just two hits.

He was matched for much of the day by Twins starter Joe Ryan, who gave his team everything it could have asked for in his first start of the season. Ryan breezed through three perfect innings to start the game, successfully extricating himself from a two-on, one-out situation an inning later and allowing just three hits in his 5 1/3-inning effort.

The only run against him came after Witt Jr. doubled to end Ryan’s day and reliever Steven Okert allowed a single to M.J. Melendez, giving the Royals a lead they would hold for two innings until Vázquez’s late-game heroics.

“Coming back in(to the dugout), Vasky wasn’t very happy,” Buxton said. “He had just grounded into a double play. So to be able to embrace that and come back out defensively and watch what (he) just did, that shows his resilience as the player he is.”

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