SEATTLE – On a night of reunions and homecomings, of welcome-backs and how-you-beens, the Twins could have been forgiven for pining for one more absence to end. Especially with him sitting in the dugout, it's hard not to constantly wonder — would Byron Buxton have caught that ball?
Dylan Moore tied Monday's game with a made-for-Buxton triple off the wall, and Jake Bauers won it with a home run that cleared the fence by, oh, about the length of Buxton's glove, and the Twins lost to the Mariners, 4-3 at T-Mobile Park.
"He's getting close," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of the Twins' platinum-glove center fielder, who has missed five weeks with a strained right hip. "He's day-to-day now."
The variety of fill-ins who have tried to make up for Buxton's absence have done a reasonably good job of it, and rookie Gilberto Celestino even contributed his first career home run on Monday. But rarely does a game pass without a play or two that makes his absence apparent.
That's what happened in the fifth inning, when Moore connected off Luke Farrell, who had allowed only one run in his 10 appearances this season. Celestino ran headlong into the wall in a futile attempt to reach the ball, and initially appeared injured in doing so.
"It didn't look good," Baldelli said. "His shoulder got jammed up a little bit, but we had concerns about maybe his wrist or his head hitting the wall hard. When we got out there, he did seem like he was doing all right. He needed a minute just to regain his composure and get back in there."
He was out of the game, lifted for a pinch hitter, when Bauers launched a changeup from Hansel Robles, who had allowed only one home run all season, to the deepest part of the park. Replacement Nick Gordon leapt for the ball, but his inexperience at the position showed, and he couldn't quite reach it.
That was enough to win it, because while the Mariners, who own the lowest batting average and fewest home runs against relief pitchers in the entire league, managed to rally against the Twins' pen, Minnesota couldn't score a run off Seattle's bullpen. Even J.T. Chargois, a former Twins second-round draftee whose career with Minnesota lasted only 25 games in 2016, pitched two shutout innings in his first appearance against his old team.
Trevor Larnach, playing in front of his father and some former Oregon State teammates, drove in a first-inning run off Seattle starter Marco Gonzalez, and Alex Kirilloff hit a long solo home run to complement Celestino's. Nelson Cruz returned to his former home park with three hits, too, but it was Kenta Maeda's return to the Twins' roster that got the most attention.
"It was a good first outing back for him, and on top of that, the stuff looked good. He got some swings and misses, looked like he was throwing the ball at a noticeably different level than when he first was dealing with these issues," Baldelli said of Maeda, who made his first start after three weeks of being sidelined by soreness in his thigh and pitching arm.
That has to be considered an encouraging sign for the pitching-thin Twins, especially on a day when Michael Pineda replaced him on the injured list. But Maeda's night was doomed to be short just one inning into the game, thanks to some uncharacteristic control problems.
The veteran righthander had never walked three batters in a game as a Twin, but he walked three Mariners in a row in the first inning. He worked out of the one-out jam by getting Dylan Moore to pop up and Jake Bauers to strike out on a low changeup, but the 33-pitch opening inning cost him any chance of going deep into the game, especially since the Twins have allowed Maeda to throw 90 pitches in a game only once all season.
Sure enough, the cautious Twins ended Maeda's night after just four innings and 76 pitches, but the results were reasonably promising: Three hits, all in the third inning, and one run, while striking out seven. He's likely to pitch again in Texas on Sunday.