MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins played their most important game of the season on Wednesday without Byron Buxton in their starting lineup.
Buxton was held out of manager Rocco Baldelli's lineup with an undisclosed injury with his team facing elimination in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series against the Astros at Target Field. Buxton did appear as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning of Minnesota's season-ending 3-1 loss, but his campaign ended on a tough note when he was picked off to end a potential rally.
Baldelli did not offer any details on Buxton's condition and did not comment on whether the situation was related to the mild concussion symptoms Buxton felt after getting hit in the helmet by a pitch in Friday's game against the Reds.
According to president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, Buxton had cleared the return-to-play protocols before he started in center field and batted second in Game 1 on Tuesday, though Max Kepler appeared to indicate that Buxton may still have felt some lingering effects.
"It’s tough to have him missing everywhere during the ballgame," Kepler said. "He makes a huge difference, and yesterday, he grinded through a lot, not being in his best state, so I’m proud of him. It’s tough. What he had to go through yesterday, today, I feel for him a lot and I hope he gets better and comes back stronger, because he’s a hell of a player."
Kepler started in center field in Game 2 and Alex Kirilloff, the No. 2 prospect in the organization, made his Major League debut in right field, becoming the third player to make his debut during the postseason since the World Series began in 1903. Kirilloff was the first of those three to start and became the first position player in MLB history to record his first career hit in the postseason with his fourth-inning single.
Buxton entered as a pinch-runner for Nelson Cruz in the eighth inning of a 2-1 game following Cruz's one-out walk against Houston right-hander Cristian Javier. Buxton drew several pick-off throws before Javier caught Buxton leaning and the speedster was caught in an inning-ending rundown.
"It was a hold-and-pick play," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "We assumed he was going to run at some point in time. That's what he was out there for. We executed that perfectly, and then the rundown, that was big. That's a rally killer."
Odorizzi not used out of bullpen in final series
Jake Odorizzi hasn't pitched in relief since 2013, when he was 23 years old, but the Twins didn't shy away from potentially using him both Tuesday and Wednesday -- with the season on the line -- as he adjusted to an unfamiliar warm-up routine and an unfamiliar place in the bullpen.
Odorizzi warmed up in the ninth inning of what had been a 1-1 tie on Tuesday before Houston pulled ahead with a three-run rally. He also warmed up on three separate occasions in Wednesday's 3-1 loss, but he never got the call, with Cody Stashak, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey appearing in relief instead.
That meant Odorizzi, an impending free agent, didn’t get to make one last 2020 appearance with the Twins ahead of an uncertain offseason. He accepted the $17.8 million qualifying offer to return to Minnesota this season, but he was limited to only four starts due to a rash of injuries -- an intercostal strain, a chest contusion and a right middle finger blister.
"Not being able to get in there to throw is disappointing to not be able to go out and help the team, especially in the postseason," Odorizzi said. "I warmed up. Felt really good. Would have liked to get in there, but I understand. It's the postseason, and I'm not normally in the bullpen, and things come up. I hold no grudges whatsoever. I just would have liked to contribute any way I could have."
Once the game ended and Houston's high-five line cleared the field, Odorizzi quietly walked alone out to the Target Field mound, gently patted the pitching rubber, scraped some of the dirt around with his hand -- and looked around at the home park where he took the next step in his career for three years.
Odorizzi has made no secret of his desire to return to Minnesota, but that's out of his hands.
"Just wanted to have one more moment on the mound," Odorizzi said. "It's treated me really well over the years. Thought it was appropriate, and closure, if so. If not, then see you later."