ANAHEIM -- This is what the Twins wanted. All of the ingredients were there. This was supposed to be their formula for success, missing for a while, encapsulated in a game.
Carlos Correa shrugged off his slow start to August and reached base five times for the first time in a Twins uniform. Back in center field after taking two days off to rehab his knee, Byron Buxton made a stunning, game-changing defensive play in the way that only he can. The Twins were able to hand their new-look bullpen -- fortified at the Trade Deadline and proclaimed a huge strength -- a lead in the eighth inning.
The Twins got their star power, and they followed their pitching roadmap to a T. The pieces still didn’t fall together.
They came one strike away from victory in the ninth before light-hitting Magneuris Sierra tied the game with a two-run triple off Jorge López. They wrested the momentum away twice with outstanding defensive plays -- and gave it back by blanking on offense. In the end, a 5-3 loss in 11 innings to the Angels loomed large as a game they should have won -- and they know it.
“Obviously, these games will haunt you,” Correa said.
“It's hard,” Dylan Bundy said. “We've got to win games now. This is the time that they matter the most.”
"We were in a spot in that game exactly where we want to be,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We had the game right in front of us.”
The bulk of the war for the American League Central remains to be fought in September and October, when the Twins have eight games against the Guardians and nine against the White Sox. But outside a one-game blip in June, this is the first time the Twins have held steady outside of first place in the division since April. Facing a non-contender, these are games they have to win to keep pace, especially now that they’re looking up at the Guardians.
Correa did his part by going 2-for-2 with a homer, three walks and a sacrifice fly, driving in two of the Twins’ three runs after entering the game with a .599 OPS in August. When things went off the rails in the bottom of the ninth with a single, walk and Sierra’s two-run triple -- out of reach of a diving Nick Gordon in left field -- Correa made a perfect relay home at 91.5 mph, nailing Sierra as he sought a walk-off, inside-the-park homer, to preserve the tie.
Buxton started in center field in consecutive games for the first time since the All-Star break due to a flareup in his troublesome right knee, and the impact of that, too, was felt in the bottom of the 10th, when he sprinted in to make a diving catch on a Luis Rengifo liner that carried an expected batting average of .920, doubling Shohei Ohtani off first for an inning-ending double play, again keeping the game tied.
The bottom of the 11th ended with Emilio Pagán staring up at a walk-off homer by Taylor Ward anyway.
In between, the little, situational things still eluded the Twins -- and they really added up. For starters, the 0-for-14 mark with runners in scoring position jumped off the page -- and that led to a season-high 14 men left on base.
"We're not doing ourselves favors with runners in scoring position,” Baldelli said. “The good at-bats have been few and far between with guys on base.”
With two outs in the ninth, López didn’t get a strike three call near the top of the zone to Max Stassi and ended up walking the Angels’ No. 8 hitter. López got ahead of Sierra, 0-2, before allowing the game-tying hit. On that triple, Gordon -- a career-long infielder playing in the outfield -- made a diving attempt instead of keeping the ball in front of him, allowing the tying run to score.
“He asked me if he should have dove for it and I was like, 'No, not in that situation,'” Buxton said. “But he's learning. For me, it's, 'Don't hold your head down for trying to go out and make a play.'”
After the game, Correa said the Twins would learn from another tough loss and come back better. He’s had to say that a lot lately. They still have time to figure these things out -- but day after day, the standings show a bit more urgency.
“Definitely, there was a learning lesson tonight,” Correa said.