CHICAGO – Just when you thought Byron Buxton had lost his sense of the dramatic, he went and made baseball history.
Bored with leadoff homers, too impatient to wait for a walkoff, Buxton provided his now-standard home run against the White Sox in the middle of Monday's game. Ho-hum. He's only homered in six straight meetings with Chicago.
But once the White Sox tied the score two innings later and threatened to take the lead, Buxton pulled off something even more breathtaking: He became the second outfielder in Twins history ever to start a triple play. In fact, it was the first center-to-third triple play in major league history, and it was crucial to the Twins' 6-3 victory at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Even if nobody was quite sure what was happening as it unfolded.
"I had no idea what was going on," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli admitted. "When the ball was hit, I was watching the ball. When Buck caught it, I got excited, but thought, we got [one] out. But we got a little more than that."
They did, thanks to some terrible baserunning by Adam Engel and Yoan Moncada — or perhaps they're still unaware of what Buxton can do in the outfield.
"With Buck, you've got to wait until the end. Buck can go, go, go and it's impressive how he plays the outfield," said Gio Urshela, who tagged Moncada for a second out and second base — doubling off Engel — for the third. Then he threw the ball, unnecessarily, to Alex Kirilloff standing on first base. "Just in case," he said with a laugh.
The play was critical because Buxton's two-run homer in the fifth inning represented the Twins' only offense until their decisive four-run outburst in the 10th inning.
Jose Abreu led off the seventh inning against Griffin Jax with a ground-rule double that one-hopped the wall in left-center. After Jax hit Gavin Sheets with a two-strike slider, Moncada singled Abreu home, tying the game 2-2.
Jax got ahead of A.J. Pollock with two quick strikes but left a slider over the middle that the outfielder pounded toward the wall in right-center. Convinced that nobody could catch it, Moncada hustled toward second base, forcing Engel, pinch-running for Sheets, to head toward third base and head for the plate.
Except that someone could indeed catch it: Buxton, who raced to the wall and snagged the ball on the run, just before running out of room.
"Like I said, you got to wait," Urshela said. "The ball's hit that way, we've got a chance."
Buxton turned and fired the ball toward the infield, where Urshela caught it midway between second and third base. Moncada had stopped and begun retracing his steps, but Urshela caught him and tagged him. Then he stepped on second base, completing the rare play.
"When things get really weird on the bases, sometimes people aren't sure what to do. But being able to just get the ball and start tagging people and tagging bases and staying composed — finishing the play matters too," Baldelli said. "Game-changing type of situation for us."
It was the 16th triple play in Twins history, and fifth just since 2017. Only once before, when Dan Gladden doubled up two Cleveland baserunners in the Metrodome on Aug. 8, 1988, had a Twins outfielder ever triggered a triple play.
The game featured solid performances by a couple of pitchers the Twins considered on last winter's free-agent market. Dylan Bundy, who the Twins chose to sign, allowed an Abreu home run, but little else in his five inning start. Johnny Cueto, who went unsigned until the White Sox made an offer on Opening Day, put plenty of runners on base — two double plays helped him survive five hits and five walks, with only Buxton's homer costing him a couple of runs in six innings.
Luis Arraez finally put the Twins ahead for good, though, in the 10th slapping his third hit of the night, a single up the middle, to score pinch runner Gilberto Celestino, who began the inning on second base. Chicago reliever Joe Kelly walked the bases loaded — Tony La Russa was ejected for protesting some of the calls — before a Jorge Polanco sacrifice fly and a two-run single by Kirilloff produced a decisive lead.