MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton’s speed usually causes problems for opponents, but Sunday it cost the Twins a run in their 4-1,11-inning loss to the Texas Rangers at Target Field.
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Twins had runners on second and third with one out and Max Kepler at the plate. Kepler hit a fly ball that forced Rangers center fielder Joey Gallo to go back a few steps. Jonathan Schoop, who was on third, tagged up and began for home as Gallo caught the ball. Buxton, one of the fastest players in baseball, also tagged and took off for third.
Gallo had had a rough weekend in the outfield up to that point but he does possess a very good arm. He saw what Buxton was doing and unleashed a throw that arrived in the glove of Rangers third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera as Buxton did. Third base umpire Pat Hoberg called Buxton out as Cabrera tagged him and before Schoop had touched home for the go-ahead run.
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The score remained tied until the 11th inning when Rougned Odor hit a three-run homer off reliever Adalberto Mejia to cost the Twins a chance at a three-game sweep. Clearly, if Buxton had it to do again, he would have stayed put at second and let Schoop score, instead of being part of an inning-ending double play. But Buxton’s speed makes him a special case, and he had seen Gallo launch a throw toward the plate in the second inning Saturday on a sacrifice fly by Jason Castro that enabled the runners to move up a base.
Asked about Buxton’s baserunning decision on Sunday, Baldelli said: “First of all, Buck has a great baseball mind, he’s got great awareness, we trust him to do what he thinks is right and make a good baseball play. I’m sure he’s tagged on that ball – I couldn’t tell you how many times in his career – and he’s safe. He’s not only safe, he’s clearly safe. Gallo has one of the better arms in baseball, he can really throw.
“With the runner on third, it’s never a situation where we’re upset if the guys doesn’t end up tagging on the ball because of that run, if you run into an out, obviously, you’re not going to be scoring on that play. I think it was more circumstance than anything else. It’s another one of those plays that we’ve talked about. It’s a good talking point and it’s a good play for everyone to watch and kind of learn something from, too, because obviously we did our job in every other way. It’s a run that probably should have scored and just ultimately didn’t.”
Buxton’s speed had played a role in the Twins taking a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Buxton drilled a ball into the left field corner with Miguel Sano on first. Sano isn’t known as a speedster but once the ball ended up in the corner it was clear Buxton wasn’t going to stop at second.
Third base coach Tony Diaz realized this and, as the relay came in from left fielder Willie Calhoun to the cutoff man, Diaz sent Sano home. Sano slid headfirst just before the throw arrived as Buxton pulled into third.
It looked as if Buxton might have been out at third if the throw went to that base, but the fact he ended up with a triple and Sano scored was a product of Buxton’s speed. In a normal situation, Diaz stops Sano at third and the Twins have runners on second and third. Kepler then grounded to first to end the inning, meaning the Twins would have stranded two runners in scoring position.
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A BRIEF OUTING
The Twins have not embraced the use of the opener this season, but they did use a variation of it on Sunday when starter Kyle Gibson pitched an inning before being replaced by recently recalled lefty Devin Smeltzer.
Gibson, who had pitched six innings and got a no-decision last Wednesday in Oakland, gave up one hit, walked one and struck out one in throwing 26 pitches. The Twins didn’t want Gibson to go more than a week without pitching but also wanted to limit his workload.
“It was good to get out there and compete a little bit,” Gibson said. “Any chance you get to go out on the mound and throw against hitters and get some big-league outs, it’s a lot of fun. So I try not to take that for granted and try to take it seriously. I think there was some similarities to some of the mechanical frustrations I was having in Oakland and just missing with some pitches up and way, arm side. I’m going to work on it in the pen this week and be ready for Cleveland.”
Gibson, who is 8-4 this season with a 4.09 ERA, said his issues of late have mostly to do with his upper half and a lean that he has.
“When I lose that kind of forward tilt and posture, that allows the arm slot to just fly open a little bit and change on its own,” he said. “Mostly about trying to keep that posture and keep everything in line. Once I have these long levers and everything moving around, once I get off of it, it just kind of goes haywire.”
While Gibson will start in the Twins’ three-game series at Cleveland after the All-Star break, he didn’t know if that will be in the first game out of the break on Friday.
Smeltzer, who was sent back to Triple-A Rochester after the game, pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up one run and five hits with a walk and four strikeouts. The Twins used five relievers after Smeltzer departed.
LEARNING ON THE JOB
The odds appear good that Sano will one-day soon make the permanent move from third to first base and spend the rest of his career at that position. (If he stays in the AL, he also could be a DH long term.) But Sano hadn’t played first base this season until Saturday, when he started there after C.J. Cron went on the 10-day injured list.
Sano, who had no miscues on Saturday, was back at first on Sunday and things did not go as smoothly. With Smeltzer pitching in the second inning, he threw over to first to try to keep Danny Santana close but the ball ticked off Sano’s glove and Santana was able to take second on an E3.
Sano did make a nice throw to second after Smeltzer picked off Santana and he took off for second for the final out in the fourth inning.
AN EARLY EXIT
There was a delay before the top of the eighth inning Sunday when plate umpire Gerry Davis was removed after struggling with the heat and humidity. Davis had been given a cold towel to wear around his neck before the bottom of the seventh, but was replaced by first base umpire Brian Knight after the inning. That left a three-man crew of Knight, Brennan Miller and Hoberg to finish the game.
“From everything that we heard he just needed to get off of his feet and get inside,” Baldelli said. “I haven’t heard anything since the game ended, since he left, but I think it was a decision that the umpires felt was definitely the right thing. This is a no-brainer. We need to make sure that everybody is safe and feeling OK. It was hot out there and humid. You could see it in everyone that was out there on the field.”
The official temperature at the start of the game was 81 degrees and there was little breeze.