One of the fastest men in baseball, Byron Buxton still relishes the moments he can go slow — especially when he hits a home run to get the Twins closer to where they want to go.
That’s what he was able to do Thursday when he crushed a pitch from Blue Jays righthander Luis Santos into the seats in left, lifting the Twins to a 3-2, 10-inning victory at Target Field, their second walkoff homer in two nights. Buxton connected on a 1-0 offspeed pitch, watched it sail away, nodded his head and then began his jog around the bases.
Well, his jog would match Bartolo Colon at max effort. But it allowed him to savor the first walkoff hit of his major league career.
“Incredible,” Buxton said afterward while icing his bruised left hand. “That being my first one in the bigs. Now it comes down to any way we can get a win. [But] it’s the best way.”
Eddie Rosario found that out a night earlier, when he hit a 10th-inning homer to give the Twins a 2-1 victory over San Diego. This latest walkoff enabled the Twins to extend their lead for the AL’s second wild-card spot to three games over the Angels, a 5-2 loser at home to Houston, with 16 games to play.
And the Twins’ third consecutive victory put them eight games above .500, their high-water mark for the season — and believing there is more to come.
“One last night, one today,” said righthander Jose Berrios, who held Toronto to one run over 5⅔ innings despite four walks. “It shows the fight in us. It shows we want to get to the postseason and win. I think it speak volumes to the type of talent that is in this clubhouse.”
Buxton flung his helmet to the ground as he crossed home plate to be doused and mobbed by celebrating teammates after his 15th — and biggest — home run of the season.
“I’ve played with him since 2012 in the minors,” Berrios said. “Every single year I’ve played with him. That’s who he is.”
The blast took Twins closer Matt Belisle off the hook. Handed a 2-1 lead in the ninth, Belisle struck out Richard Urena and got Josh Donaldson to ground out. Up stepped All-Star slugger Justin Smoak and his 37 home runs. Belisle’s 0-1 slider broke down and in — usually the happy place for a lefthanded hitter. Smoak crushed the pitch to right for a tying home run, setting up extra innings. It was the second blown save for Belisle in nine attempts since assuming closing duties following the trade of Brandon Kintzler.
Buxton’s blow also was appropriate on a night in which both bullpens were strong — except for two pitches — and run-scoring opportunities were squandered. The teams combined to go 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position and left 21 men on base.
Toronto took a 1-0 in the fifth on an RBI single by Josh Donaldson that fell in between three Twins players in short left-center. In the bottom of the inning, the Twins loaded the bases with three one-out walks off Brett Anderson before Jorge Polanco lined a two-run single.
And that was it. Trevor Hildenberger got out of a seventh-inning jam by striking out Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales, and Dillon Gee earned the victory after pitching around a one-out double in the 10th.
Someone was going to have to win it with a long ball, and it was Buxton who came through.
“I was hoping Buck would get on base, steal second and we would get a single,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “I know we talk about the [sore] hand all the time. He’s found a way to compete, each and every night. No complaints.”