Byron Buxton was at top speed halfway to first base. He was already headed to second base when his long fly ball glanced off the wall in right-center, and he was two long strides from third when Arizona center fielder A.J. Pollock retrieved the ricochet and desperately heaved it toward the infield. And Buxton just kept going.
“An inside-the-park home run is as exciting a play as our game can offer,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said after his team won for the ninth time in 12 games, 10-3 over the Diamondbacks on Friday night. “And when you have one of the fastest players in the game do it — it was really a boost for us.”
More like a booster rocket. The ball arrived at home plate a split-second earlier than baseball’s fastest player, but the relay throw was a step or two toward third base, and catcher Chris Iannetta had to make a sweeping tag that Buxton slid under, headfirst. MLB announced his trip around the bases took a mere 13.85 seconds, the fastest that its StatCast system, installed in 2015, had ever recorded.
The Twins bashed a half-dozen home runs for the second time this year, and they came in all varieties — including two of Miguel Sano’s longest blasts ever, a 450-footer followed by a 474-foot cannon shot — but none was as electrifying as Buxton’s world-class sprinting. They piled up 10 runs, earning Ervin Santana his 13th win.
Yet there was plenty of drama when Buxton batted for the fourth time, and his teammates were rooting for him to just punch a little blooper over the infield.
Buxton already had collected a stand-up triple, a double into the corner and his round-tripper, and needed only a single to become the first Twin in eight seasons — since Michael Cuddyer, who by coincidence was at Target Field watching — to hit for the cycle.
“I was on deck, and my mentality was to stay the same, keep the same approach,” Buxton said. But with the crowd roaring on every pitch, he added, “I felt like a pitcher pitching a perfect game with two outs.”
“I know he would have gone to second,” Molitor said. “The guys were giving him a hard time about, ‘You’ve got to fall down.’ ”
He took a slider for a ball, and then Buxton took a solid swing at another fastball, driving it toward center field. But second baseman Daniel Descalso snagged it for the out.
“It’s one of those rare feats, it rivals no-hitters in terms of rarity. And when you knock the first three legs out first, everyone was very hopeful he would find a way to get a knock,” Molitor said. “He had a good at-bat, he stayed inside the fastball, but unfortunately he got it right out there to the second baseman. It was fun. The crowd was into it.”
So was his team, which vowed to get him another at-bat. “We talked about it coming off the field in the eighth — let’s see what we can do,” Molitor said. “We started off well. We came close,” but Buxton was left two batters short.
The Twins moved into a tie with the Angels for the second Wild Card spot by winning.
There was a lot to get into in this game, though it didn’t look like it at first, after Santana allowed two runs in the first inning and another on a David Peralta home run in the second. But then came homers by Max Kepler, Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier, the latter tying him with Cuddyer for 10th place in Twins history with 141.
And Sano’s were just tape-measure blasts, one into the second deck in left-center, the other in the third deck directly above the bullpens.
“Some of those balls are ridiculous,” Buxton said of Sano’s blasts.
Just like his speed. Buxton was even disappointed in his baserunning.
“I stutter-stepped around third,” he said. “Got to work on that.”