MINNEAPOLIS — Miguel Sanó led Minnesota's rally against the Detroit bullpen with a home run and the tying single in the ninth inning, before Byron Buxton beat out an infield single for the game-winning RBI to give the Twins a 4-3 victory over the Tigers on Saturday night.
“He can hit, he can run, he can field, he can throw. Everything, you know? I love to see Byron playing like that when he’s healthy and he’s helping the team to win,” said Sanó, who homered in the seventh off Joe Jiménez and singled in the ninth against José Cisnero (1-2) after a walk by Josh Donaldson and single by Nelson Cruz.
With two outs and two strikes, Buxton hit a slow grounder to shortstop Willi Castro. One of the fastest players in baseball, Buxton blazed down the first-base line and just beat Castro's throw, before the Twins spilled out onto the field in celebration and doused Buxton with water.
“I just told myself to put the ball in play, put it on the ground and make it tough for them. Earlier in the game, they were pitching me a little bit in, so I had to make a little bit of adjustment," Buxton said. "Like I said, just try to put the ball on the ground there and run like crazy.”
Castro charged the ball, but his valiant effort was still in vain.
“This guy might be the best runner in baseball, especially on a swinging bunt,” said Tigers bench coach Lloyd McClendon, who took over for manager Ron Gardenhire after he left in the sixth inning because of a stomach virus.
Jorge Alcalá (2-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the Twins, who have won five straight games and are 17-4 at home for the best mark in the major leagues.
Victor Reyes homered for Detroit on Kenta Maeda’s second pitch, and starter Tarik Skubal stifled Minnesota over six innings.
Buxton, however, had the last swing — and sprint.
“You do see Buck do things that you don’t see from anyone else,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Maeda produced another masterpiece for the Twins, retiring 18 straight batters after Reyes sent his hanging slider into the covered-up right field seats. Maeda yielded only two hits in six innings, but a walk to Jonathan Schoop to start the seventh was the spoiler. After a single, Tyler Clippard relieved.
Jeimer Candelario, Castro and Jorge Bonifacio each hit an RBI single before Clippard recovered to get three straight bases-loaded outs. Three runs were charged to Maeda, who still has a 1.64 ERA in three home starts with 26 strikeouts and four walks in 22 innings.
Skubal allowed only two hits himself, the only run against him scored by Jake Cave on a double-play grounder hit by Eddie Rosario. Cave pinch-ran for rookie Brent Rooker, who produced Minnesota's first hit to start the fifth.
With the Tigers lugging a starting pitching ERA that was the second-worst in baseball at 6.47 entering the evening, the rookie Skubal delivered a well-timed gem against the Twins for the second straight Saturday. He gave up two runs on three hits in five innings at Detroit last weekend.
“He’s starting to believe that he belongs, and that's important,” McClendon said.
The Twins and Tigers are playing 10 times in a 26-day span from Aug. 29 to Sept. 23. The defending AL Central champion Twins are third in the division — but only one-half game behind the leader Chicago, with Cleveland in between.
Sanó stared at his homer and took a slow jog around the bases, drawing some ire from Jiménez. That's because, Sanó said, Jiménez yelled an obscenity at him after striking him out once last year.
“I told Nellie — he did it with Nellie, too, in Detroit — ‘Hey, next time I face him, I’m going to crush him. I’m going to do the same thing. I hit a homer, I’m going to pimp it,'” Sanó said.
Said Baldelli: “We have no issue right now with anything with the Tigers or anyone else, and it’s our goal to keep our guys from engaging in any of that, and I’m glad it didn’t lead to anything."
Reyes is batting .357 in his last 13 games (20 for 56) since sliding up to the leadoff spot on Aug. 22, with 11 runs and six RBIs in that span. The centre fielder hit his second career leadoff homer.
Tigers: SS Niko Goodrum was placed on the injured list with a strained right oblique muscle. He last played on Tuesday. Castro will take Goodrum's place for now.
Twins: C Alex Avila went on the injured list with lower back tightness, and Willians Astudillo was added to the roster to back up Ryan Jeffers with regular Mitch Garver already on the injured list. ... 2B Luis Arraez missed his third straight game with patellar tendon soreness in his left knee.
Tigers: RHP Casey Mize (0-1, 6.75 ERA) pitches Sunday afternoon. Mize, the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, has yet to finish the fifth inning in his first three major league starts.
Twins: LHP Rich Hill (1-1, 3.94 ERA) takes the mound for the fourth game of the series. Hill is 3-0 with a 3.77 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 28 2/3 career innings against Detroit.
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Dave Campbell, The Associated Press