MINNEAPOLIS — Twins infielder Willi Castro’s walk-off sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and nobody out in the ninth inning beat Cleveland, 7-6, on Thursday night at Target Field.
The last player left on the bench, pinch runner Ryan Jeffers, scored the winning run after his team trailed 3-1 early and trailed 6-3 later.
They did so winning the first game of a four-game series with Central Division challenger Cleveland.
It was the Twins’ fourth walk-off sacrifice fly this season.
The Twins won at the end with star Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa and Max Kepler all out of the game early because of injuries.
The team’s designated hitter, Buxton was hit in the ribs by a pitch in the fourth inning and Donovan Solano pinch hit for him an inning later.
The team said he came out of the game because of “rib soreness” in the same inning Solano hit a pinch-hit single during a two-run fifth inning.
Buxton was back in Thursday’s lineup after he wasn’t on Wednesday in Houston. Same, too, for rookie third baseman Royce Lewis and Correa, both of whom returned to Thursday’s lineup.
Correa left later in the game after what the team said was reaggravation of the plantar fasciitis in his foot and Max Kepler left because of a migraine headache.
The teams entered Thursday’s game with the Twins leading the Central Division by 2 games over second-place Detroit and 3 1/2 games over the Guardians.
The Twins trailed 1-0 after two innings, were tied 1-1 after four innings and led 3-1 after five innings before the Guardians scored those five sixth-inning run to take a 6-3 lead.
The Twins threatened in their eighth, scoring three runs that include Lewis’ second homer of the season, a two-run shot that tied the game 6-6 with one out.
Twins starter Pablo López started the sixth by walking Cleveland’s ninth-position hitter, center fielder Myles Straw, and allowing three consecutive singles when the Guardians hit four consecutive singles that loaded the bases with two outs.
The teams traded runs in the first four innings, with the Guardians on the scoreboard first with a run in their second inning and the Twins matching with one of their own in the fourth.
That was before the Twins took a 3-1 lead in the fifth and the Guardians responded with a five-run sixth inning that gave them a 6-3 lead.
Cleveland right-handed pitcher Tanner Bibee made his seventh career start, his third on the road. At 1-1, he hadn’t won since his major league debut against Colorado on April 26. The Guardians lost, 2-1, to the Cardinals on Saturday in his last time out.
López made his 12th start this season and sixth at home in his sixth major league season. It was only the second time he faced Cleveland, dating to an April 23, 2019 game when he pitched six innings for Miami. He entered Thursday’s game with a 3-3 record and 4.11 ERA.
López left the game after getting two outs in that sixth inning when reliever Emilio Pagán entered the game.
Center fielder Michael A. Taylor gave the Twins a fleeting 2-1 lead with a solo home run that led off the fifth inning.