MINNEAPOLIS -- With two outs in the ninth inning Saturday and Nelson Cruz standing on third base, Byron Buxton hit a routine groundball that dribbled toward Tigers shortstop Willi Castro.
Well, a routine groundball for just about anyone else. But Buxton isn’t just about anybody else.
For Buxton, it was a game-winning single. He flashed his speed and beat out a ball that pretty much only he could, sending the Twins to a 4-3 walk-off win over the Tigers on Saturday night at Target Field.
“In the batter’s box, I just told myself to put the ball in play, put it on the ground and make it tough for them,” he said. “… Just try to put the ball on the ground there and run like crazy. Speed plays a big part.”
Yes, it does.
Buxton’s speed was measured at 31 feet per second on the play by Statcast, which is considered elite.
His game-winning hit was set up by Miguel Sano’s game-tying single earlier in the inning — one of his three hits on the night — which itself was preceded by a Josh Donaldson walk and a Cruz infield single that deflected off Tigers pitcher Jose Cisnero and ricocheted towards third base.
The two-run rally helped boost the Twins (25-16) to a win on a night where they had been hanging close but playing from behind for a majority of the game.
If Kenta Maeda hadn’t given up a home run to the first batter of the game, the Twins starter would have been on perfect game watch for much of Saturday night.
Maeda once again dazzled, retiring, at one point, 18 straight batters after giving up a leadoff home run to Victor Reyes to begin the game.
“Nothing really seems to faze him. He gives up the early homer and it didn’t seem to matter very much to him. … He’s given us nothing but tremendous efforts from beginning to end,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Maeda, who cruised through the early innings seemingly with ease, finished his start with 22 whiffs and eight strikeouts in six-plus innings. But the Twins starter, though he said his stuff still felt good, ran into some trouble in the seventh inning, allowing a walk and a single before his removal.
Tyler Clippard, who had stranded all six inherited runners he had dealt with this season was immediately greeted by three straight hits, allowing both inherited runners to score and putting the Tigers atop 3-1 at the time.
The Twins, meanwhile, didn’t do much against Tigers starter Tarik Skubal, who didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning when rookie Brent Rooker delivered just the second hit of his career.
Skubal only gave up one other hit in his effort — a sharp single to Sano struck off the bat at nearly 110 miles per hour right after Rooker’s.
The Twins scored when the next batter, Eddie Rosario, bounced back to Skubal, who decided to throw to second base to initiate a double play rather than throwing home.
After falling behind in the top of the inning, the Twins started their comeback in the bottom of the seventh with a mammoth home run from Sano off Joe Jimenez that the slugger stood to admire before tossing away his bat.
Sano had been waiting, he said, to get his payback on Jimenez since the reliever had struck him out last year and had told him to “get the (expletive) out of here.”
“He’s not supposed to get mad, you know?” Sano said. “You pimped it, so get ready for the pimp, too.”
That home run — and his subsequent game-tying hit — along with two scoreless innings from rookie Jorge Alcala to keep the game within reach, helped put Buxton in a position to make his impact felt in the ninth.
“There’s a lot of things that Buck does that you just don’t see very often on a baseball field, and because of that, even at the big league level, when guys are used to seeing all kinds of impressive things, you do see Buck do things that you don’t see from anyone else,” Baldelli said.