One of the problems with an empty stadium is that there is little ambient sound to dampen the sickening thunk of a fastball glancing off a batting helmet.
Byron Buxton reeled and fell Friday night, and a morbid Twins tradition resumed.
The blue, numbered bathrobes the Twins are wearing — and sharing in the dugout after home runs — might represent the most endearing and effective team-building gimmick we’ve seen in Minnesota for years.
What’s sad is that Josh Donaldson could have hit a lot closer to home if, instead of lush bathrobes, he would have handed out hospital gowns.
Saturday night, the Twins beat the Reds 7-3 at Target Field to clinch home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are headed to another postseason that could be defined by their injuries. They have lost 16 consecutive postseason games for a variety of reasons. They haven’t played to their capabilities. They have played mostly superior teams. They have rarely enjoyed home-field advantage. They have rarely had the services of all of their best players.
They didn’t have Joe Mauer for the 2004 postseason, or Francisco Liriano in the fall of 2006. They didn’t have Justin Morneau in the 2009 or 2010 playoffs.
Ervin Santana lost the one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium in 2017 while pitching with an injured finger. Buxton missed the 2019 postseason.
Consider the other injuries that have bedeviled the Twins since they last won a World Series and this begins to feel like something of a curse.
Kirby Puckett woke up blind during 1996 spring training, right before Rick Aguilera lifted a suitcase and injured his wrist — otherwise that team might have made the playoffs.
Mauer was forced to quit catching because of concussion and other injury concerns. Cristian Guzman developed a mystery sore arm at the All-Sar break in 2001, leading to the Twins losing their division lead to Cleveland.
David Ortiz’s inability to stay healthy led the team to release him and a rededicated Ortiz would become baseball’s most important hitter over the rest of his career.
Their most important player during their two-year run of excellence has been Nelson Cruz. He is hampered by a sore knee, although he has played two games in a row. Buxton is their best player at the moment. He did not play Saturday and manager Rocco Baldelli said he is unlikely to start on Sunday.
Second baseman Luis Arraez did return to the lineup Saturday after dealing with ankle and knee injuries, and went 4-for-4 with three doubles, looking more like the hitter he was last year than the one he was last month.
Jake Odorizzi, the Twins’ best starter in last year’s playoffs, is recovering from a cut on his right hand.
Donaldson, the most expensive free-agent acquisition in franchise history, left the game on Friday night because of cramping in the same calf that forced him to miss most of this season, and was held out of Saturday’s game. Like Buxton, he is not expected to start on Sunday.
Derek Falvey, the Twins’ chief baseball officer, said he expects that Buxton will recover from “mild’’ concussion symptoms by Tuesday, and that Donaldson looks relatively healthy.
When it comes to sports, injuries and projections, it is always difficult to separate reality from targeted optimism.
It’s at least possible that the Twins will try to break their postseason losing streak with a gimpy lineup and without the starter (Odorizzi) who pitched the best for them last October.
“Josh came in today and said he was feeling better, he was moving around the clubhouse and feeling better,’’ Falvey said. “Byron, he did come in today with some mild symptoms consistent with a mild concussion, but we don’t at this time have to make any move on that.’’
Falvey used the phrase “day to day’’ to describe both.
Baldelli said it’s more like “hour to hour.’’
So, at the end of another season, they hope, knowing that hope is to planning what crackers are to cake.