The Twins began their AL wild-card series with third baseman Josh Donaldson already ruled out for the series. Then they started Game 2 on Wednesday without Byron Buxton, perhaps their most important player.
Why he was out was hard to pinpoint before the game.
“Buck’s not at 100 percent today,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s not doing his best. I know everyone’s going to want to know every possible detail about what that means, and as of right now, a noon game, I’m not going to be able to go into those details.”
Buxton missed the final two games of the regular season after getting hit in the head with a pitch last Friday in a game against the Reds. He was diagnosed with mild concussion symptoms, but was given the go-ahead to play in Game 1 on Tuesday.
Buxton’s condition was not clarified after Wednesday, but he did make an appearance in the eighth inning as a pinch runner for Nelson Cruz ... and was picked off.
That’s how Buxton’s 2020 season ended. It began with him out of the lineup because of a mid-foot sprain and interrupted by a left shoulder strain as he was limited to 39 games.
“He makes a huge difference and yesterday he grinded through a lot not being in his best state so I’m proud of him,” outfielder Max Kepler said. “It’s tough. What he had to go through yesterday, today, I feel for him a lot.”
A few fans in stands
MLB, working with Minnesota government officials, allowed about 250 fans — players’ families and front office staff — to attend the playoff games at Target Field.
And they definitely were heard cheering for their team and got on each other for not catching foul balls.
Reliever Trevor May said it was nice to see other people at games for a change.
“Yeah, we could hear them,” he said. “It was great. I think they took that challenge upon themselves and it was up to them to add to the crowd noise and there was a lot of people yelling. You could hear individual people, but that’s better than nothing. And our families were here.”
Kid Kirilloff debuts
Baldelli had shocker in his lineup for Game 2. Alex Kirilloff.
The rookie outfielder was pressed into service after Buxton was declared unable to play. He became the first Twins player to make his major league debut during a postseason game.
“To be honest, that was the highlight to my day,” Kepler said, “and I’m very proud of him to have to do that in that situation in the playoffs.”
Kirilloff who started in right field, got his first major league hit, a line single to right in the fourth inning. He raced to his left in the fifth and made a sliding catch of Josh Reddick’s sinking drive. He batted in the ninth, and hit a line drive that was right at Alex Bregman at third base for the second out of the inning.
Kirilloff, the second-ranked Twins prospect who had never played above Class AA before, was not out of his league.
“He played like a vet,” said Kepler, who moved over to center with Buxton out, “and even though the circumstances are a lot different, it’s still — today was big for us and we needed everything that he contributed and I’m proud of him.”
Farewell for Odorizzi?
As the dugouts emptied and relievers walked in from the bullpens, righthander Jake Odorizzi headed for the mound.
He spent a few moments there, squatting over the pitching rubber, rubbing the dirt and obviously taking mental snapshots as his third season with the Twins came to an end.
Odorizzi, whose season was marred by an intercostal strain, a line drive to the chest and a blister that limited him to four starts and 13 innings, is a free agent following the season. He warmed up in both Games 1 and 2 but was not used.
“I hold no grudges whatsoever,” he said. “I just would have liked to contribute any way I could have. That’s that. … Just wanted to have one more moment on the mound, it’s treated me really well over the years. Thought it was appropriate and closure if so. If not, then see ya later.”