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Buxton takes flight to end Twins' slide

@dohyoungpark
September 2, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- Air Buxton was grounded for nearly two weeks, but the Twins' center fielder was cleared for takeoff just in time to take flight and rob a critical home run. Oh, and win a game for his deeply slumping team, too. Byron Buxton made a triumphant return from a

MINNEAPOLIS -- Air Buxton was grounded for nearly two weeks, but the Twins' center fielder was cleared for takeoff just in time to take flight and rob a critical home run.

Oh, and win a game for his deeply slumping team, too.

Byron Buxton made a triumphant return from a stint on the 10-day injured list with a robbery of Edwin Encarnación on Tuesday night, and that finally gave Minnesota life. The Twins immediately tied the game with a pair of pinch hits in the bottom of the frame, and Buxton’s second hit of the night was an RBI single in the seventh that lifted Minnesota to a 3-2 win over the first-place White Sox, at last snapping a six-game skid.

Box score

“He has a tendency to just do things that point you toward winning games,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He makes very big plays, very meaningful plays, offensively and defensively. But also the way he does it is kind of cool. It’s enjoyable to watch him play from all perspectives. So it was a big game for him and a great first day back.”

The former Platinum Glove Award winner wasn’t the only one who brought some needed energy and production to the Twins. Michael Pineda also rejoined the club Tuesday at the conclusion of his 60-game suspension and delivered a classic Pineda performance -- six innings of two-run ball -- as the big right-hander and Buxton led the way to victory.

When Encarnación launched a Pineda fastball into left-center field, Buxton roamed over to the warning track, made a controlled leap at the wall and reached into the flowerpots above the wall to snag the ball and come down with the home run robbery. According to Statcast, Buxton covered 111 feet to make the snag on what would have been a 385-foot big fly by the White Sox designated hitter.

“It’s exciting,” Pineda said. “Everybody knows who Byron Buxton is. So, when I checked the lineup today and saw Byron Buxton in center field today, I said, ‘Whoa, this is going to be a good game.’ We want to enjoy the game. We love seeing Buxton. He’s one of the best defenders in the game.”

Though Buxton might have lost some style points for dropping the baseball on the exchange out of his glove, the most important part was that he controlled his speed and his leap to the point where he rather gently collided with the padding and emerged no worse for the wear, just what he and the Twins had hoped when they agreed upon some defensive adjustments that would lower his risk for injury on such plays.

“I was going to throw it back in, but my hand was shaking too much and I dropped it,” Buxton said with a big grin. “Once I went up, I was all-in on the ball. I think the biggest thing I took was I didn't slam into the wall. That's a big plus for me.”

Just as importantly, that momentum shift was just what the offense needed, too.

The Twins punched through 11 hits against stingy left-hander Dallas Keuchel and the White Sox bullpen, their highest hit total since Aug. 23, but they struggled to find the big hit as they stranded eight men on base through the first five innings.

But after Buxton’s catch? Jake Cave lined a pinch-hit, one-out triple down the right-field line, and Luis Arraez, another pinch-hitter, roped a game-tying double on the very next pitch to knot the game at 2 in the bottom of the sixth.

“Man, it was awesome to be able to get on the board against these guys, and yeah, I was hyped,” Cave said. “The team was hyped for me. Maybe even more hyped. It was awesome. I want to see that clip, because I know I was kind of losing my mind a little bit when I came in the dugout.”

One inning later, Buxton put the finishing touches on the comeback. After Nelson Cruz led off the seventh with a double and Marwin Gonzalez walked, Buxton got a two-out opportunity and lined a single to left field, bringing home the go-ahead run. It left his bat at 106.0 mph, marking his third hard-hit ball of the night -- joining a 105.1-mph groundout and a 108.0-mph single earlier in the game.

“Just trying to get out there and get some energy going,” Buxton said. “I kind of like to think of myself as an energetic person, so once you get things rolling, that's when we start clicking. It's one of those things where my teammates just told me to be myself before the game and things will happen on their own. I just went out there and played my game, and things fell in place for us.”

Do-Hyoung Park covers the Twins for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark and on Instagram at dohyoung.park.