MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton’s throw to Mitch Garver to get Shohei Ohtani at the plate ended the eighth inning on Tuesday at Target Field and kept the Twins’ one-run lead intact in their 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
But it also came with a price.
Garver, the Twins’ red-hot catcher who in the third inning blasted a two-run homer, his ninth of the season, suffered a high left ankle sprain on the play and will undergo further testing on Wednesday morning. That means Garver is almost certainly headed for the 10-day injured listed and his absence from behind the plate could be much longer than that.
“I think we’ll probably know a lot more tomorrow,” Baldelli said during his postgame press conference Tuesday. “(Garver’s) probably not in as much pain as I was expecting, but again anything beyond that is just speculation.”
Garver, who was receiving treatment after the game and was not available to comment, was unable to put any weight on his left ankle as he was helped off the field by the Twins’ athletic training staff after applying the tag on Ohtani.
Ohtani reached on an infield single with one out in the eighth and took second on Albert Pujols’ two-out single to right. Brian Goodwin then hit a sharp single to center off reliever Blake Parker that bounced in front of Buxton. The center fielder came up throwing as Ohtani headed for home. Garver caught Buxton’s strike and used his left foot to block the plate. Ohtani slid into Garver’s foot as the tag was applied. Both players stayed down briefly, but Ohtani soon got up and checked on Garver. The Twins’ medical staff quickly came out to attend to the catcher.
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“The rules (for blocking the plate) are kind of interesting,” Baldelli said. “I can’t say to me that I totally understand every single example that I see of what is the right way to handle that and what is not. We know what’s effective and we know that once you have the ball that you can put yourself in front of the plate. … I think Mitch did everything right. It’s just an unfortunate situation that he ends up getting hurt on the play.”
The rules Baldelli referenced were put into place for the 2014 season and known as the “Buster Posey” rule. Posey, the San Francisco Giants’ catcher, was injured during a May 25, 2011, extra-inning game when the Marlins’ Scott Cousins took a course just inside the third-base line and initiated contact with Posey. Posey suffered a broken bone in his lower left leg and three torn ligaments in his ankle.
The significant injury to a star player caused MLB officials to look for ways to make plays at the plate safer. But Garver, as Baldelli said, had a right to have his foot in front of the plate because he had the ball in his possession. The fact Garver was injured overshadowed just how solid of a defensive effort it was both by Buxton and Garver.
“It took kind of perfect execution to get Ohtani. He can really run,” Baldelli said. “One thing about that guy that most people wouldn’t really know is that beyond everything else that he does, he’s one of the faster players in baseball. He’s like a gazelle out there running around. Buck broke on the ball … I think at one point in flight maybe Buck might have even thought that he was going to catch it but didn’t.
“That’s actually a really difficult and awkward play when the ball kind of lands in between on you because it stops your momentum from going forward. Somehow he’s able to collect himself and make a great throw to the plate. Mitch stood his ground and was able to get the tag down. It took a lot of things to workout for us and some tremendous efforts from our guys to get it done and we got it.”
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Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who departed after giving up three runs and six hits with two walks and five strikeouts in 5.2 innings, watched the play on a clubhouse television.
“I thought when the ball kind of jumped on (Buxton) there on the bounce that there was no chance, but then he just (made) the perfect throw to Garv,” said Gibson, who earned the victory to improve to 4-1. “Obviously, it saved the game. We’re definitely worried about Garv. He’s been one of our better players all year and really consistent behind the plate. Hopefully, everything comes back negative and he’s fine.”
Garver, who was replaced by Jason Castro behind the plate in the ninth inning, is hitting .329/.418/.747 with nine homers and 19 runs batted in.
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Castro and Willians Astudillo, who came off the injured list on Sunday, have been sharing the catching duties with Garver this season. That means the Twins won’t have to call up a catcher in Garver’s absence.
But his loss will be felt. The 28-year-old not only has been outstanding at the plate, but also made huge improvements defensively behind it during the offseason.
“I would say that Mitch has taken huge steps forward both defensively and with the bat,” Baldelli said. “We’ve talked about his at-bats a lot. You can’t fake what he’s doing. … It’s not a guy who happens to be swinging the bat pretty well. He sees the ball, he makes great decisions on a pitch-to-pitch basis. He has tremendous at-bats. When you have at-bats like that, and you have a good short stroke, it’s a good combination and that’s what he’s working with.”