Byron Buxton hit the first walkoff home run of his career in the 10th inning Thursday night, watched it soar, then sped around the bases and leaped past flying bubblegum.
“We’ll have to get some more in stock,” he said.
When he touched home, the Twins had won three in a row, including the past two on walkoff homers, to plant a flag in the playoff race.
Hours before, Miguel Sano — Buxton’s bookend, the Twins’ other superstar in waiting — sounded doubtful about contributing soon. Sadly for the Twins, this is a trend.
From early June through the end of September, the 2006 Twins played as well as any team in franchise history. In August, Francisco Liriano, who led the league in ERA, grabbed his elbow.
He never was the same pitcher again, and the best Twins team of the decade were swept in the playoffs by the A’s.
In 2010, Justin Morneau was playing at a career peak when he slid into second base in Toronto and took a knee to the head. He never was the same, and without him the Twins were swept by the Yankees.
Thursday, the tenor of a couple of important voices in the clubhouse made it clear that the 2017 team might also be without a key figure.
Sano sounded frustrated by his slow recovery from a stress reaction in his left leg. His manager, Paul Molitor, hoped just a few days earlier that Sano might return as a pinch hitter or designated hitter by the weekend. He did not sound optimistic Thursday.
Sano entered the clubhouse with his leg wrapped, carrying a large, black walking boot.
Sano tried to run on Wednesday. Thursday, he was too sore to work out or swing a bat.
He last played in a game Aug. 19. There are two weeks and two days remaining in the regular season.
He will have to prove he can sprint on consecutive days. He will have to get his bat ready for big-league pitching without being able to play in minor-league games.
“I’m going to keep hoping that something turns this thing in the right direction at a faster speed,” manager Paul Molitor said. “But obviously the days are dwindling.”
Sano said he hasn’t run faster than “75 percent” and admitted to frustration.
“I don’t want to go out there and hurt myself and miss the rest of the season and not be ready for next season,” Sano said.
Is he worried about running out of time to return this season?
“It’s not about that,” he said. “It’s about me being healthy and getting better.”
During a six-minute interview, Sano never sounded optimistic.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Vikings fans think they’re cursed because of big-game losses, but the Twins have lost exceptional players at inopportune times.
Tony Oliva was one of the game’s best players before a series of knee injuries bumped him off the path to the Hall of Fame.
Kirby Puckett woke up blind in one eye at the end of the 1996 spring training, after his first winter of offseason workouts, before a season in which he was going to bat cleanup behind Chuck Knoblauch (.341 that season), Rich Becker (.291) and Molitor (.341). He might have driven in 150 runs.
Then there was Liriano, and Morneau, and then in 2011 Mauer, two seasons after winning the American League MVP award, developed a mystery ailment that manager Ron Gardenhire called “bilateral leg weakness.”
At about the time Sano and Buxton were expected to blitz the baseball world, both were injured. I visited them in Fort Myers in the summer of 2014. Buxton had a broken wrist, and Sano had undergone Tommy John surgery, so they played catch with a third person while standing next to one another, Buxton throwing and Sano catching.
Without Sano, the Twins’ young hitters have become a dangerous group. With Sano, the Twins would field one of baseball’s best young lineups.
Sano’s injury might not be proof of a curse, but it is a shame.