It’s hard to believe but before Friday night, Byron Buxton had never been given the traditional ice-water shower after a big win. Not in high school, the minors or the major leagues.
“Had some Gatorade thrown at me once,” he said. “But from a bottle. Never a cooler.”
With leadoff man Luiz Arraez at first base in the ninth, Buxton hit a two-run home run on a two-strike pitch from Baltimore closer Jorge Lopez as the Twins rallied past Baltimore, 3-2, on Friday night in front of 25,540 at Target Field.
Arraez singled to right field off Lopez, and Buxton drove a pitch into the left field bleachers as the Twins snapped a two-game losing streak.
“That was the big kind of exclamation point we’ve been looking for on one of these nights,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Buxton’s blast saved helped mitigate the sting of losing 3 of 5 on a four-day road trip in Cleveland, saved the Twins’ beleaguered bullpen from another loss and pushed the Twins’ lead in the American League Central to 1½ games of the idle Guardians, whose game at New York was rained out.
Left-hander Caleb Thielbar relieved starter Joe Ryan with the game tied 1-1 in the eighth and surrendered a run, but Juan Minaya, called up from Triple-A St. Paul before the game, pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings for his first victory.
Overall, the Twins lost five of eight games to the Guardians in 10 days, despite leading late in all of them. Minnesota’s bullpen was 0-4 with six blown saves in the Twins’ previous five losses – including consecutive walk-off losses on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Tough couple of games, but yesterday we said, ‘It is what it is’ and turned that page,” Buxton said. “When we got here today, just don’t change who we are. We know we can be better, and we know we’re better. So it was just coming out here and doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Lopez (3-4) took the loss and blown save, his third in 16 save opportunities.
Twins starter Joe Ryan held the Orioles to one run on two hits and a walk over seven ins and left with a 1-1 tie. After allowing a third-inning run on a walk and double by Cedric Mullins, Ryan retired 13 of the Orioles’ next 14 batters and fanned five of the last six he faced.
“I think just mentally I had a pretty clear plan of what I wanted to do and I felt pretty good,” Ryan said.
Orioles reliever Cionel Perez retired Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Jose Miranda 1-2-3 in the seventh, and Thielbar gave up a double to Ryan McKenna on his first pitch of the eighth. McKenna moved to third on a groundout to second and scored from third on a grounder to second.
But Arraez singled to center to lead off the ninth on a nine-pitch at bat against Lopez, and Buxton followed with a half-swing home run that easily cleared the left field wall just to the left of the bullpen.
“It’s not a full swing,” he said. “Just trying to put barrel to ball and, you know, get the runner over or get the runner in.”
Buxton said he’d been preparing for Lopez in the eighth, knowing he’d be facing the Orioles’ closer. But he wasn’t thinking home run on his winning swing.
“With two strikes especially not,” he said. “I’m just trying to put something in play, especially with having a few tough at-bats prior in the game. With his sinker, I didn’t want to roll into a double play, so I had to get that out of my head. And then Luis’ at-bat just made me stop thinking.
“When he’s having an at-bat like that in front of you, fouling off great pitches, it got me going, it got me locked in.”