Twins manager Paul Molitor, a baserunning savant in his time, has his team stealing third base, attempting to steal home, advancing a base on wild pitches just a few feet from the plate and scampering home when opponents aren’t paying attention.
The Twins have improved on the bases, largely because Molitor’s attention to detail has them ready to expose any weakness they find.
For one day, baserunning let them down as the Twins ran into three outs late during their 4-1 loss to the Cubs in 10 innings. Chicago’s three-run 10th, including a two-run single by Starlin Castro, was the difference.
With the score 1-1 in the eighth, Byron Buxton led off with a walk against Cubs reliever Pedro Strop. Brian Dozier followed with a fly ball to the edge of the warning track in right-center field. Buxton tagged up and took off for second, an opportunity for the fans at Target Field to see his supernatural speed.
Dexter Fowler caught the ball and fired to second base in time for Castro to drop a tag on Buxton for the out. Replays suggested the play was very close and that Castro’s right foot blocked Buxton’s left hand from hitting the base.
“The guy threw it from the edge of the track,” Molitor said, “and he beat the play. He just could not get his hand on the base.”
Replay coordinator Sean Harlin gave Molitor the “thumbs down,” meaning it wasn’t worth challenging.
And Molitor’s view of Buxton’s play was clear: “I didn’t have any problem with Buxton’s play,” he said.
Eddie Rosario followed with a single to right, bringing Joe Mauer to the plate. But Rosario strayed too far off the bag on one pitch, and Cubs catcher David Ross threw a strike to first baseman Anthony Rizzo in time for him to tag Rosario out.
“Rosario, who has been doing a lot of good things on the bases, got caught a little out of balance on his secondary [lead], and the guy made him pay,” Molitor said.
Mauer led off the ninth with his third walk of the game, With Jason Motte, and his slow delivery, on the mound, Mauer took off for second and was called safe. The Cubs challenged the call, and they were right. Mauer did not keep his backside on the bag as he slid through. Castro kept the tag on him for the out. The game went into extra innings.
Fowler led off with a ground ball that Dozier booted for an error. Rizzo singled to center, putting runners on first and third. Kris Bryant flew out to medium-deep center. Rizzo advanced to second when Buxton’s throw was so high that reliever Blaine Boyer, who was backing up home, could only catch it.
The Twins then intentionally walked Chris Coughlin to load the bases and set up a force play.
Boyer’s sinker to Castro was down and in, but Castro fought it off into left for a two-run single and a 3-1 Cubs lead. Chris Denorfia added an RBI single to make it 4-1.
“We’re battling,” Boyer said, “and I hate I was the cause of the loss right there.”
It was a battle. Kurt Suzuki homered for the Twins. Trevor May gave up one run over six innings in his duel with Cubs ace Jon Lester.
The Twins needed a big hit late to drive in a run — but the Cubs threw out baserunners before that could happen.
“Buxton did a good job of trying to tag on that ball,” Molitor said. “The guy blocked him with his foot, it appeared. We had a base stolen and we could not hold on to the base. Little things like that make a big difference in those close games.’’