ARLINGTON, Texas — Max Kepler raced home to score the go-ahead run in the seventh inning Saturday, and if it wasn’t for Luis Arraez just barely spinning out of the way of a ball headed toward his elbow, Kepler wouldn’t have had the opportunity. Earlier in the game, Byron Buxton beat out an infield single and scored a run, and Caleb Thielbar tossed a scoreless inning and earned the win.
A week ago, the Twins were without all four. Now as key contributors return from the injured list, the Twins more closely resemble the cast of characters they thought they would have out on the field when they began the season.
That cast edged the Rangers for a second straight day, winning 3-2 on Saturday afternoon at Globe Life Field for their third straight victory.c
“When you start getting pieces of that nucleus back and getting a few of them back at the same time, you start to see the effects in the clubhouse, on the field, during these games,” manager Rocco Baldelli said.
They certainly saw it on the field on Saturday.
Kepler, who returned from the injured list Friday, had an eventful trip around the bases in the seventh, one which didn’t even require a hit to plate a run. After drawing a walk, Kepler swiped his sixth base of the season. His next 90 feet came via a wild pitch uncorked by Rangers reliever John King, as did his final 90 — thanks in large part to Arraez.
With a three-ball count, King released a pitch that nearly grazed Arraez. Had it, Arraez would have taken first on a hit by pitch and Kepler would have remained put at third. Instead, Arraez’s pirouette-like movement helped him avoid the pitch, which bounced away from catcher Jonah Heim. The Rangers challenged, and a review confirmed that call.
“Sometimes you need something like this to break your way,” Baldelli said. “We had someone on third base and we put a little pressure on the other team and sometimes positive things happen. I’m glad it didn’t touch that (elbow) pad.”
Alexander Colomé’s 1-2-3 seventh inning followed by scoreless innings from Hansel Robles and Taylor Rogers helped put away the win for the Twins.
The Twins (29-41) and Rangers (25-45) had been tied since the fourth inning after Nelson Cruz responded to Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s two-run home run with one of his own, bringing home Buxton, who flashed his speed — though he said he didn’t fully cut it loose — to beat out an infield hit to reach base in front of Cruz.
Kiner-Falefa’s home run was the only damage the Rangers did against Randy Dobnak, who rebounded from two tough outings in which he gave up a combined 14 runs. Dobnak gave up just the two runs on four hits in five innings. After his departure, Thielbar and Kepler made their contributions, and the final out of the game wound up settling in Buxton’s glove in center.
When the Twins go for the sweep Sunday, it’ll be another recent returner from the injured list — Kenta Maeda — trying to pitch them there.
“We’re a really talented team and just kind of stringing everything together,” Dobnak said. “Lately, with Buxton coming back, Kepler coming back off, Luis getting back in there, all the pieces are coming back together.”