Byron Buxton is such a tremendous center fielder that in 2017, the season that he played 140 games for the Twins, he was voted as the Platinum Glove winner for American League. That means you're the best of a league's best fielders.
Alex Kirilloff started his 20th game in the Twins' outfield on Friday night. This was his 10th in right to go with 10 in left. Kirilloff has demonstrated in these efforts that his future is as a first baseman.
Buxton has been out of the lineup since straining a hip while running the bases May 6. On Tuesday night, he played Game 1 of a rehab assignment as a DH with Class AAA St. Paul and was in full flight on a triple.
He took off Wednesday, and returned Thursday to hit two home runs and a long sacrifice fly to drive in five runs while playing center field.
Eleven miles to the west, Kirilloff was undone by the complicated barrier in front of the right field porch in Target Field, maiming himself as he attempted to corral a ricochet on Gio Urshela's triple in the first inning.
Kirilloff batted once, singled and then had to be lifted with a low-level ankle sprain. On Friday, three hours before the game, manager Rocco Baldelli said:
Buxton would be taking an "active day off'' before playing for the Saints again on Saturday, and his lineup included Kirilloff in right field.
Thus, the best center fielder in the AL, appearing healthy, took part in exercise with the trainers, and a rookie who has had several weird plays out there was in right field with a swollen ankle.
The challenge at hand merely was the Houston Astros, possessors of baseball's deepest lineup, and the Twins' starting assignment went to rookie Bailey Ober, a 6-foot-9 righthander.
"Got get 'em, Bailey," Baldelli said.
And Ober did so, mixing a slider, curve and changeup with his low-90s fastball. An impressive quality with Ober was the pace at which he worked. He would get the signal from Ryan Jeffers, the 6-4 catcher, look in for a moment and fire away.
Big man likes those big targets, apparently. Ober's catcher at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School was Vikings center Garrett Bradbury. Ober went 10-0 with a 0.45 ERA as a senior.
The Astros lead the majors by 15 points with a .272 team average and also with 5.43 runs per game.
Against this force, Ober went five innings, allowed two runs, seven hits and had seven strikeouts. He left with a 3-2 lead and a chance for a first big-league win.
Reliever Jorge Alcala took care of that within four pitches, giving up a tying home run to the Astros' new star, Yuli Gurriel.
Later, it was 4-4 entering the ninth, and the Twins tried to get a second inning of relief out of Matt Shoemaker. He gave up two runs, and that was the ballgame.
Astros 6, Twins 4. And still no Buxton on this side of the river on Saturday, apparently.
The internet tells us a hip "strain'' can be mild, moderate or severe. Perhaps Buxton's was on the high end and that's why he was out of game action three weeks longer than a routine stay on the injured list.
For sure, this Buxton absence has only intensified the negative public narrative, "He'll never stay healthy.'' That attitude about their best player can't be helpful to the Twins' business operation as it battles an alarming lack of interest.
The strongest evidence came earlier this week. The COVID restrictions on ticket sales were gone, the Yankees were in town for three hot summer nights, and attendance stayed stuck in the 17,000s.
On Friday night, the Twins had two-fold promotions: "Grateful Dead Appreciation Night'' and a supply of umbrellas given away that could be attached to your head, in honor of Josh Donaldson, the bringer of rain who responded with two line-drive home runs.
There's also been a TV ad running for an upcoming giveaway of "Margaritaville'' shirts. Who is in charge of promotions here? Me, or some other 75-year-old?
Postgame fireworks were included Friday and attendance stayed in the 17,000s.
A fair share of the crowd did attempt to join in the harassment the Astros have faced over the garbage can symphony alleged to have aided the 2017 World Series title.
We even had a fan toss the now-traditional garbage receptacle onto the field late the game. And who could blame Twins fans for lingering resentment over the carnage the disreputable Astros inflicted on the Twins at the end of May 2017?
The Astros swept a three-game series with 40 runs and 47 hits, including 10 home runs.
Oh, wait. Those games were at Target Field. No garbage cans. That Astros lineup was extra-good, and it remains so.
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