BOSTON — Rafael Devers can impress with his glove, too.
Two nights after the Boston Red Sox rookie sensation became the second left-handed hitter ever to homer against New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman — on a 102.8 mph fastball, no less — he started the 31st triple play in franchise history in the fourth inning Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
With runners on first and second base, Devers fielded a grounder to third by St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Devers stepped on third base to force out Paul DeJong, then threw to second base to force out Dexter Fowler. Second baseman Eduardo Nunez made the pivot and threw to first to retire Molina.
“First thing that went through my mind was just to touch third base and throw as hard as I possibly could to second base to hopefully get a double play and maybe a triple play,” Devers said through an interpreter.
Said manager John Farrell: “The presence of mind of Raffy, knowing the speed of the runner. You could understand if a less experienced guy would have stepped on the bag and thrown across the diamond to first. But to go into Nuney at second with a potential to turn it, the dugout was calling for it as soon as it was off the bat.”
After following the play from the mound, pitcher Rick Porcello pumped his fist and let out a yell in an uncharacteristic display of emotion when slow-footed Molina was called out at first base.
“Well, that was a big play,” Porcello said. “Molina’s a good hitter, and they’ve been swinging the bats real well. To get that result was huge. It was kind of a momentum shift for myself and for our team, so yeah, let it out.”
“I’ve never seen one in person,” Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr said. “[Devers] was obviously ready for it, and we executed the play perfectly. It was great, a lot of fun.”
Devers, the youngest player in the majors at age 20, was batting .339 with six homers and 12 RBIs in 62 at-bats entering the game. After taking Chapman deep Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, he homered twice Monday night in a 7-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians. He also drove in the only run of the game through four innings Tuesday night with a two-out single against Cardinals starter Mike Leake in the first inning.
But although there wasn’t much doubt about Devers’ bat, the Red Sox still had some reservations about his defense when they called him up last month. He committed 16 errors in the minor leagues this season, including four in eight games in Triple-A.
Devers made four errors through his first 15 big league games at third base, but Farrell said earlier Tuesday that he has been impressed by Devers’ defense.
“Even if he plays like he is the rest of his career, that’s a solid-average to a tick-above-average major league defender,” Farrell said. “In the period of time he’s been here, his defense has been better than anticipated or advertised.”