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Anatomy of a Twins victory: Byron Buxton's speed turns a routine defeat into a thrilling win over Tigers

Byron Buxton, Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco
Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton, center, celebrates his winning RBI-single off Detroit Tigers pitcher Jose Cisnero with Josh Donaldson, left, and Jorge Polanco in the ninth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton didn’t have a good night at the plate on Saturday at Target Field. He struck out swinging in his first two at-bats against Tigers rookie lefthander Tarik Skubal, grounded to third leading off the eighth inning and grounded to short in the ninth.
But it was that last plate appearance — one that would have ended with a 6-3 out in the scorebook for almost every other big-leaguer — that makes Buxton such a unique player. Instead of ending the innings with that grounder to Willi Castro, Buxton beat the shortstop’s throw, enabling Nelson Cruz to trot home with the winning run in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory.
What was scary was that Castro did nothing wrong on Buxton’s slow roller. He didn’t bobble it, he didn’t make a bad throw. Maybe he could have charged it, but we are really nitpicking if we put the blame on Castro, instead of giving Buxton the credit he deserves. The reality is that Buxton, when healthy, changes games even when he isn’t going great.
“There’s a lot of things that Buck does that you just don’t see very often on a baseball field,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Because of that, even at the big-league level, when guys are used to seeing all kinds of really impressive things, you do see Buck do things that you don’t see from anyone else. I think one thing it can also do is put the opposition in an uncomfortable place at times where they have to make plays in a manner that they’re just not used to. We practice a lot of things, but it’s really hard to be totally prepared and ready for everything that Buck forces you to do. Getting out of the box the way he did, just the way he covers ground down the line, and in every other way on the field, it’s amazing to watch and the results speak for themselves.”
Buxton said on Fox Sports North that he told himself to put the ball in play. “Put (the ball) on the ground and make it tough for them,” he said. “Early in the game, they pitched me a little bit in, so I had to make a little bit of an adjustment. Just try to put the ball on the ground and run like … run crazy. Speed plays a big part.”
Here’s the play.

The victory gave the Twins a five-game winning streak, following a six-game skid that ended on Tuesday. Minnesota has won the first three games in this five-game series with the Tigers at Target Field. With Cleveland and the White Sox both winning on Saturday night, the Twins and Indians trail Chicago by a half-game in the AL Central.
It’s worth nothing that while Buxton beating out Castro’s throw was the play that will get the most attention, there were other key moments in the bottom of the ninth.

  • Josh Donaldson walked against Tigers reliever Jose Cisnero to lead off. That was followed by Nelson Cruz hitting a shot off Cisnero’s leg to put runners on first and second.
  • Following a Jake Cave strikeout, Miguel Sano singled to left to score Ehire Adrianza from second. Adrianza had pinch-run for Donaldson. That tied the score at 3-3 and was Sano’s third consecutive hit (he homered in the seventh) after he struck out six times in his first at-bats in the series.
  • Eddie Rosario followed by swinging at the first pitch and grounding to first baseman Jeimer Candelario. Candelario got Sano at second with a throw to Castro, but the ball came in high and that eliminated the chance to make an on-time return throw to first in order to get Rosario and end the inning. That put runners on first and third with two outs.
  • Rosario eliminated the chance for a force out at second when he took second on defensive indifference early in Buxton’s at-bat. This proved key because if Rosario hadn’t taken second, Castro would have forced Rosario at second on Buxton’s grounder.