Like cod liver oil or copper bracelets, baseball has a few home remedies for fixing what ails you. One old-wives-tale cure for an enfeebled bat: bunt.
Old-fashioned or not, the medicine temporarily cured Byron Buxton and Bobby Wilson on Tuesday, and their resulting big contributions helped the Twins shake off their offensive doldrums and beat the Cardinals for the fifth consecutive meeting, 4-1 at Target Field.
Jose Berrios broke out of a monthlong rut as well, restoring his curveball to its previous unhittable sharpness and pitching brilliantly for 7⅓ innings. Berrios, who had allowed four or more runs in four consecutive starts, gave up only two singles and a walk while striking out 10. Relievers Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney retired all five hitters they faced, and the Twins held the Cardinals to two hits for the second time in eight days.
“Wow,” Wilson said of his first regular-season look at Berrios from behind the plate. “That’s the Berrios everyone in this [clubhouse] is used to seeing. Obviously I wasn’t here the first month to see it, but that stuff [Tuesday] is front-of-the-line stuff right there.”
It wouldn’t have mattered if the Twins had remained impotent at the plate, though, and Cardinals phenom Jack Flaherty seemed ready to extend their scoring slump. The 22-year-old righthander never allowed a runner beyond first base in the first five innings, extending the Twins’ slump to 16 consecutive scoreless innings, and only three runs over 32 innings. But three consecutive two-out singles, capped by Eduardo Escobar’s run-scoring looper to center, stopped the skid, tied the score at 1-1 and ended Flaherty’s night.
The Twins put the Cardinals away an inning later, and squaring around was a big part of it. After Logan Morrison led off with a double off the right-field wall, Buxton — 1-for-13 since recovering from a fractured toe — came to the plate with instructions to bunt him to third. Buxton took two pitches, then tapped an 88-mph fastball from reliever Luke Gregerson toward the mound.
Gregerson hustled in to field it but, in seeing Buxton streak toward first base, hurried his throw and it sailed down the right-field line, scoring Morrison with the go-ahead run.
“There’s a lesson that we’ve tried to preach to him about those sacrifice bunts — he puts it right out in the middle, didn’t really get it close to the line, and he still beats it out,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s more about giving himself a chance. But he did his job, and it was rewarded.”
Two batters later, with Buxton on third, Wilson — 1-for-12 since being called up to the majors — decided to try a slump-breaking bunt, too. He sized up an inside slider from Gregerson, pushed his bat at the ball … and fouled it off.
Lucky thing, too. Gregerson’s next pitch, also a slider, hung in the middle of the plate, and Wilson crushed it deep into the left-field stands, increasing the Twins’ mastery over the Cardinals in three games this season to 17 runs to 2. It was Wilson’s first home run since Sept. 21, 2016, when he was with Tampa Bay, or as Fox broadcaster Ken Rosenthal informed Wilson, 601 days ago.
Wilson was just glad to make contact, he said. “I don’t think I’ve sniffed a slider in the past week,” the 34-year-old veteran said. He and hitting coach James Rowson had worked on sliders the past few days, and “I actually hit one off the end of my bat the previous at-bat, which was a big steppingstone for me.”
And maybe the bunt — excuse me, the missed bunt — helped a little bit, too. One old-school baseball savant seemed to think so.
“I told those guys,” Molitor said with a smile. “If you play the game right and try to bunt, you’re going to get a guaranteed hit.”