ARLINGTON, TEXAS – When you’re 26 games below .500, not much more can happen that could be described as a season-ruining event. But the Twins encountered — and, they hope, dodged — one Friday.
Byron Buxton collided into the outfield wall in the first inning while unsuccessfully trying to catch a deep fly ball, and he collapsed to the turf when his right knee “locked up” a few moments later. The Twins eventually lost to Texas 6-5 at Globe Life Park to end a three-game winning streak, but if their rookie center fielder really escaped with only a bruised knee, as doctors have tentatively concluded, they might petition to have the game considered a victory.
Buxton, limping in the clubhouse after the game, will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test Saturday, and there is plenty riding on it. With the Twins mired hopelessly in last place, this season is now about making young players such as Buxton, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano comfortable and confident. And it looked for a moment like Buxton’s chances of doing so this year had been ripped up by a headlong impact with a wall.
“You watch him go down, you’re always a little bit fearful potential collisions like that,” manager Paul Molitor said. “There’s a lot of violence to that position when you play it like him. [It] reminded me of Torii [Hunter] and the Kirby [Puckett] days.”
Buxton didn’t catch Rougned Odor’s ball, which turned into an RBI triple, and he slumped to the ground after impact. When the play ended, he gingerly got to his feet but seemed to be in pain. Molitor and athletic trainer Dave Pruemer jogged out as Buxton sat back down on the ground; when Pruemer and left fielder Robbie Grossman tried to help him to his feet, Buxton’s leg suddenly gave way when he put weight on it.
“It really scared me a little bit more when my knee gave out on me,” Buxton said. “I’ve never experienced something like that, so it just kind of made me panic a little bit more.”
Buxton wore a compression sleeve on the knee, and he will apply an electronic muscle stimulator on it overnight, in hopes the limp goes away quickly.
“We went through a bad bone bruise with Trevor [Plouffe] earlier in the year, and I hope that’s all we’re dealing with here,” Molitor said.
Buxton has battled numerous injuries during his career.
“He’s an emotional guy when it comes to this game. We saw some of that out there,” Molitor said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of frustration, there’s a lot of emotion that comes out when you’re facing another injury.”
For the Twins, there was plenty of frustration when the game resumed, too. They were patient enough with Cole Hamels that the All-Star departed without completing five innings, giving up five runs. Three came on a tremendous blast by Sano, a three-run homer that gave the Twins a brief 5-4 lead.
But Texas struck back in the sixth, with Nomar Mazara lining a leadoff double off reliever Ryan Pressly, and Elvis Andrus slapping a ball down the right-field line. Kepler slipped as he tried to field the ball in the corner, and it bounced past, enabling Andrus to reach third base. He scored the go-ahead run on Bobby Wilson’s sacrifice fly.
The Twins had opportunities to tie, but an ill-advised steal attempt by Eddie Rosario and a baserunning blunder by Kennys Vargas snuffed those chances.
“A winnable game,” Molitor said with a shrug. “We kind of beat our selves there with our own mistakes.”