CHICAGO – Maybe this game just can’t hold Byron Buxton, his manager said Sunday. “If baseball [had] five bases,” Paul Molitor said in amazement, “he probably would have been safe, too.”
Maybe so. Buxton, leading off for the first time all season because Brian Dozier’s sore quad kept him on the bench, was waiting for Chris Sale’s first-pitch fastball and just missed clearing the fence in right-center. When center fielder Leury Garcia’s awkward jump for the ball left him slumped on the ground, Buxton accelerated around the bases and reached home well ahead of the ball, his first career inside-the-park home run.
MLB’s Statcast system timed Buxton at 14.05 seconds around the bases, the fastest time ever recorded in the system’s two seasons, laughably speedier than the previous fastest, Melvin Upton’s 14.85.
“I took off hard. Between first and second [base], I saw that he didn’t catch it, so I said, ‘This is going to be interesting,’ ” Buxton said. “I felt like I was running faster, but I don’t think I was.”
It was the Twins’ second inside-the-park homer to lead off a game this season; Eduardo Nunez also had one June 2 vs. the Rays.
Funny thing was, Buxton’s first-pitch homer came just a couple of hours after Molitor said he’s not ready to commit to Buxton as the Twins’ leadoff hitter next year. “I don’t expect that to happen in the short term. We’ll see how things unfold in the spring,” the Twins manager said before the season’s final game. “He most likely will need a little more time to evolve into a top-third-of-the-lineup hitter.”
His speed needs no more evolving, though. “That’s top-tier,” Molitor agreed.
‘Good day’ for Berrios
Jose Berrios was his usual in-and-out-of-trouble self, putting runners on base in four of his five innings. But only once, when Jose Abreu connected on a two-out, third-inning single, did Chicago manage to score against the young righthander, who earned his third career victory, and first since Aug. 2.
Berrios finished his rookie season 3-7 with an 8.02 ERA, but his victories came when he was matched against Dallas Keuchel, Danny Salazar and Sale, three of the best pitchers in the American League.
“It seems like every time I went out there, it felt like I was going against a really good pitcher. And I think I’m a really good pitcher myself,” Berrios said. “I feel like the fans want to see good pitchers out there. And I’m a competitor, so I like to see that.”
Molitor noted “a couple of hiccups, where he just kind of loses that command.” Those somewhat brief losses of control, which produced 35 walks in 58 innings, are what’s holding him back, Molitor said.
“It makes your job a lot harder when you have those stretches like that,” he said, “but five innings of one-run baseball, that’s a good day.”
• Molitor expects to determine the makeup of next year’s coaching staff soon, but “I don’t believe it’s totally up to me. I’ll have input, I would hope.” He would like to keep the staff intact. “I’m going to try. There might be some people who have opinions that will concur or differ with me. We’ll have to talk about those things.” Molitor didn’t mention Derek Falvey, the Indians assistant general manager expected to be formally hired this week as Twins chief of baseball operations, but he said he wants to begin developing a relationship with his new boss.
• Even if it isn’t Buxton, Molitor hinted that Dozier won’t be the leadoff hitter next year, either. He became the second hitter in Twins history to eclipse 40 home runs this season, finishing his season with 42 and 99 RBI. “I’m going to have to sort out where his bat’s going to be most valuable, given the power trend we’ve seen the last three years,” Molitor said. “But he knows I appreciate his steadiness.”