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Buxton's defense not enough to stop Ohtani, Dodgers as Twins fall 4-2

Byron Buxton reminded the Los Angeles Dodgers of his defensive prowess, saving at least two runs with highlight catches in center field Monday night, but he couldn't jump-start the Twins offense or prevent balls from flying over the fence.

James Outman and Shohei Ohtani hit a pair of solo homers in the seventh inning against Twins reliever Jay Jackson, and that served as the difference in the Twins' 4-2 loss at Target Field. The Twins offense continued its homestand-long slump with only three hits, and the team remained hitless in its last 26 at-bats with a runner on second or third base.

"Pitching has kept us in the games," Buxton said, "so just keep fighting. Don't let this slow start change who we are. We know we're good. It's just all about us coming out here and sticking to our game plan."

Twins lefthanded reliever Steven Okert gave up a one-run lead when he surrendered three consecutive hits in the sixth inning, none hard hit, and Will Smith had a game-tying RBI single. Following a flyout, Teoscar Hernández lined a slider into the right-center gap, and that's where Buxton almost saved the night.

Buxton, sprinting to his left, took nine strides before he made a Superman-style dive for a highlight catch on a ball slicing away from him. He nearly tossed out Freddie Freeman, the runner retreating to second base, and then he let his emotions out. He screamed and slapped hands with right fielder Manuel Margot. Teammates in the dugout raised their caps.

"Our pitching staff in the dugout was like, oh man, feels pretty good to have him back out there," said Twins starting pitcher Bailey Ober, who allowed three hits and one run in five innings.

Said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli of Buxton: "He almost explodes as he's getting to the ball. Normally, you see guys slowing down as they get to where the ball's going, and he explodes to it."

When Buxton returned to the dugout at the end of the inning, nearby fans from the announced crowd of 15,177 gave him a standing ovation. It was a reminder of what the Twins missed when Buxton spent the entire 2023 season exclusively as a designated hitter.

"The first thing I thought about was, 'You ain't done that in two years,' " Buxton said. "It was like that little kid moment. Going back to the first time you dove for a ball as a kid, and that's literally what it felt like."

Okert and Jackson combined to give up three runs, matching the number of runs the Twins bullpen allowed in their first seven games. Outman's go-ahead homer came on a full-count slider that stayed over the plate.

BOXSCORE: Los Angeles Dodgers 4, Twins 2

Ober, coming off the worst start of his career, issued a leadoff walk to Mookie Betts, and he watched Ohtani pummel a fastball to the center field wall for a double. He had to wait eight days to retake the mound, and he immediately found himself back in the danger zone.

Freeman drilled the next pitch, a high fastball, but Buxton saved a run with a leaping catch in front of the center field wall. Freeman's long flyout drove in a run as a sacrifice fly, but it was a win for the Twins as Ohtani returned to second base and Ober retired nine consecutive batters.

"When everything is going right, you don't have to think about sitting back a little more mechanics, getting out in front of the fastball or anything," said Ober, who struck out seven and threw a first-pitch strike to 16 of his 19 batters.

Ober was pulled after 68 pitches before he was set to face the lefty-hitting Ohtani and Freeman for the third time in a one-run game.

"At that point in the game, I don't really care about pitch count," Baldelli said. "We had a one-run lead, and we're going to our bullpen at some point in the near future."

The Twins took a 2-1 lead in the third inning when Austin Martin drew a one-out walk and Margot followed with a two-run homer. That was their only damage against Dodgers lefty James Paxton, who completed six innings, and they didn't put a runner on base after Buxton hit a leadoff single in the fourth inning.