ARLINGTON, TEXAS – The Twins held a one-run lead with two outs in the ninth, the tying run stood on first base, and Eli White unloaded on a Taylor Rogers sinker, drilling it deep to right-center. Off the bat, it looked to Nelson Cruz like a tying extra-base hit.
But only for a second.
"You [realize], 'Oh, [Byron] Buxton is there. OK, the game is over,' " Cruz said. "It don't matter where the ball is hit, he will find a way to catch it."
Yes, with the help of a couple of allies in the medical field, Buxton finally got his way on Saturday: He got to play. And he may have won the game.
Buxton easily caught up to White's fly ball to clinch the Twins' third consecutive victory, 3-2 over the Rangers at Globe Life Field. And he flashed his breathtaking speed — though not all of it, he emphasized — in the fourth inning to beat out an infield hit that turned Cruz's home run moments later into a tying two-run, 436-foot blast.
"Everybody is starting to get that chemistry back together and things are starting to click a little bit," Buxton said of his first Twins game since May 6, and only days after Luis Arraez and Max Kepler also came off the injured list. "We're starting to talk a little more and figure things out. You know, the page is turning."
Well, it's only one game, but Buxton's presence alone certainly gave the Twins noticeably more optimism, despite starting the day in last place, 14½ games back of Chicago. "It's definitely a relief when you have the best center fielder in the league playing behind you," Cruz said. "Today was a great example — he impacted the game in so many different ways. We missed him a lot."
It appeared they would miss him for a few days more, until Buxton enlisted allies from the medical field when the Twins arrived in Texas. The Rangers' orthopedic specialist examined Buxton, the Twins ordered an MRI that showed no lingering damage to his strained hip, and Buxton's weeklong pestering campaign with his manager finally paid off.
"With Roc, it's a little bit different because he knows the player and the person. He kind of has a bead on you before you go into his office," Buxton said. "I guess that's why it's a little bit tougher for him to let me go. It's hard. You know, we let Rocco kind of stick to the managing thing and we just try to get on his nerves to let us play."
He was tested early and often Saturday. Buxton hit a dribbler in front of the plate in the first inning, and had to run hard but was thrown out by Rangers starter Koby Allard. Then he hit a grounder just to the left of second base in the fourth, a ball that second baseman Nick Solak rushed to get to, and went full speed to beat it out for a hit.
Or did he?
"It might be a few days before he truly cuts it loose," Baldelli said. "I don't think he actually cut it loose the entire way down the line, which I am perfectly not just OK with, but would encourage for a short time until he gets his feet under him."
Manager's orders, Buxton said. "We've got little, cute things to worry about and you know, I don't want to go back on the bench," he said with a smile. "Got to do what he say or else that can happen."
Not much else happened offensively for the Twins. Buxton's hit and Cruz's homer amounted to half of Minnesota's output on the day, but it didn't matter. They scored the game-winner without putting a bat on the ball.
Max Kepler, 0-for-7 since returning from his own injury, drew a one-out walk from lefty John King, and stole second base. When King tried to crowd Arraez with sinkers, he twice nearly hit the batter, and both times the ball got past catcher Jonah Heim. Kepler moved to third base on the first one and scored the tiebreaker on the second.
All that was left was for the bullpen to support Randy Dobnak with four shutout innings, which they did with little problem. Especially once Buxton tracked down that final out.
"Quite fun, considering that was the only fly ball I got all game," Buxton said. "I want every ball to be hit to me. So just to be able to get that ball to end the game and give it back to Rog in such a tough game and good win, it felt good."