Mad dash: Buxton clubs inside-the-park HR

September 16th, 2020

In a perfect world, would have become the first player in Twins history to hit inside-the-park homers in consecutive games. Instead, he had to settle for just the one on Tuesday -- and later used his speed to manufacture another run.

In that perfect world, the rest of the Twins’ offense would also have had a little more to show for their effort in the first two games of this four-game battle against the White Sox for first place in the American League Central. Instead, the bats fell quiet against rookie right-hander Dane Dunning while tempers flared with the ejections of Rocco Baldelli and during a 6-2 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“We didn't lose tonight because of anything that happened with any of the umpires,” Baldelli said. “There's some frustration in certain instances, but we have to certainly go out and play better, have better at-bats, hit balls that are in the zone when we get the opportunity and pitch better and make more consistent quality pitches. It comes down to us needing to do a better job.”

The loss dropped Minnesota to three games back of Chicago, meaning the Twins can’t take over first place during this series. The Twins’ magic number to clinch a postseason berth remained at five.

Buxton hit a sharp line drive to left-center field in the third inning against the White Sox that center fielder Luis Robert couldn't snare on a leaping attempt, and once the ball caromed off the wall and trickled away from Robert, Chicago had no chance at slowing down Buxton.

The Twins' speedster only needed to top out at a sprint speed of 29.2 feet per second on his trip around the bases as he tied the game, 1-1, with his ninth homer of the season. That's well shy of the "elite" threshold of 30 feet per second, which Buxton has already topped 14 times this season and 322 times in his career. According to Statcast, the ball had a 50 percent catch probability, but Robert's inability to make the play opened the door for Buxton to take full advantage.

It marked Buxton's third career inside-the-park home run, most among active players. He later added a single in the fifth and rounded the bases on a wild pitch, a passed ball and an RBI groundout, but the rest of the lineup combined for only one hit as the Twins never mounted a serious threat against Dunning. The White Sox, meanwhile, got homers from Tim Anderson and James McCann, and a clutch two-run single from Robert.

“Just another display by Byron, of him showing us things that we don’t normally get the opportunity to see on a baseball field,” Baldelli said. “We know how special his abilities are, and watching him run around the bases, it’s a joy to watch, and we get to see him do things like that all the time. You’re never sure what he’s going to do because he’s really capable of pretty much anything.”

Buxton has four homers in his past seven games. The Twins would argue that it should have been five.

In the ninth inning of Monday's 3-1 loss to the Sox, Buxton hit a ball to deep left field that soared over the glove of Eloy Jiménez and rolled to the wall, settling under to the padding of the outfield wall. Jiménez immediately gestured for the ball to be ruled dead, but the umpiring crew initially ruled it live, allowing Buxton to round the bases for what looked to be an inside-the-park homer.

Though Jiménez appeared to easily pick the ball up and relay it into the infield, the umpires ruled upon replay review that the ball was lodged underneath the padding and thus dead, and Buxton's homer was overturned to a ground-rule double as a result.

"I mean, it looks like it’s probably leaning up against the wall," Baldelli said. "I don’t know. You probably could just bend over and pick the ball up and throw it in if you wanted to. But, again, what can any of us do about that? I’m not sure.

"It’s a judgment call. You just have to live with it either way. There’s nothing you can do about it."

Had that call not been overturned, Buxton would have become only the fifth player in Twins history (since the franchise relocated in 1961) with multiple inside-the-parkers in a season, joining Tony Oliva ('64), Tom Brunansky ('82), Greg Gagne ('86) and Steve Lombardozzi ('88).

“I know he didn’t get credit for the first one, but probably something we haven’t seen a ton of,” Baldelli said. “I know I haven’t.”

That overturn was just one of several contested plays in this series -- including ’s sixth-inning balk on Monday and a strike-three call to catcher that appeared to be well beneath the zone -- that led to frustration in the Twins’ dugout, culminating in the ejections of the mild-mannered Baldelli and Cruz following that seventh-inning strikeout by Jeffers.

Baldelli wasn’t sure whether the ejections were any carry-over from the residual frustrations of Monday night, when the Twins had issues with those two calls and stranded a season-high 15 runners on base. Regardless, it’s on the Twins to play up to their potential as they finally get healthy.

“You generally get more frustrated with calls when you're not playing up to your capabilities and expectations,” Baldelli said. “It's on us to go out and play better and not have to rely on close calls to be the deciding factors in these games.”