KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sure, the Royals ignited a big inning by turning their speedster loose. But two can play at that game.
Billy Hamilton sparked a five-run inning for Kansas City on Wednesday, but Byron Buxton came off the bench to trigger a rally of his own, and the Twins pulled out a 7-6 victory at Kauffman Stadium to complete a sweep of the two-game series.
Buxton, out of the lineup because of a bruised back he suffered the night before, was summoned as a pinch runner after Nelson Cruz opened the ninth inning of a tie game with a walk. Two pitches later, he was standing on second base, having stolen his first base of the season and extended his team-record, consecutive-steal streak to 30.
“He said he was feeling good, and he went out there and changed the game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s the kind of stuff he can do, just by inserting him on the bases. It changes the way you look at everything.”
When Eddie Rosario followed by pulling a 3-2 slider from Wily Peralta into right field, Buxton scored easily, restoring a lead the Twins had squandered earlier.
Rosario’s hit capped a rally from a three-run deficit, but Max Kepler also took a chunk out of it with a two-run double in the eighth to tie the score. And the Twins received large contributions from bench players making spot starts: Mitch Garver brought home a pair of runs with a double and two singles. Willians Astudillo went 3-for-5 with a double, giving him a .667 average (6-for-9) this season. Tyler Austin doubled and made a couple of difficult catches in foul ground to end Royal rallies.
“[Tuesday] night we showed a ton of heart, battling back and winning that game [5-4 in 10 innings],” Garver said. “Today we … came up with those hits that you really need. That’s kind of the difference between winning teams and teams that are right at .500.”
Well, the Twins are 4-1, only the second time in nine years they’ve started so well. They batted .307 in two games here, drew 11 walks from a shaky Royals staff, and their bullpen allowed one run over 7⅓ innings.
That they needed to climb out from under a three-run deficit Wednesday came as a shock, however, given how routine Kyle Gibson was making his 2019 debut look. But from the safety of a two-out, two-strike pitch to the ninth-place hitter, the Twins righthander drove off a cliff and nearly took the Twins with him.
Gibson gave up a first-inning triple by Adalberto Mondesi and an RBI single by Alex Gordon, but was mostly unchallenged otherwise. But in the fifth inning, after Gibson recorded two quick outs and got two strikes on ninth-place hitter Hamilton, everything changed in a hurry. Gibson didn’t throw another strike to Hamilton, awarding the light-hitting outfielder first base — where he wasted little time stealing second. With that small spark, Kansas City’s offense roared to life.
Whit Merrifield singled Hamilton home to cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-2. Then Mondesi hit a slow roller to second base, where Ehire Adrianza fumbled the ball and tossed it underhand to first, too late to beat the speedy shortstop. When Gordon followed with a 411-foot blast over the center field wall, the Twins suddenly trailed.
But the inning, worst of the Twins’ season so far, wasn’t over. Shortstop Jorge Polanco fielded a Jorge Soler ground ball and threw it over first baseman Austin’s head for an error. Ryan O’Hearn and Chris Owings followed with ground-ball singles, the latter against a shifted infield, and Gibson’s day was abruptly finished, behind 6-3.
“I just had a mental lapse finishing the inning. That’s the thing I’m most frustrated about — not limiting the damage,” Gibson said. “I had a bad pitch to Gordon, a middle-middle slider. … But we have an offense [that means] we’re never out of the game.”