MINNEAPOLIS -- There’s a plaque on the wall in the Delta Sky360 Suite that occupies the limestone overhang above the center-field batter’s eye at Target Field, because so few baseballs land on that level that any such homer is noteworthy enough to be memorialized there.
As of Friday morning, there were seven names on that plaque. Byron Buxton’s name won’t join them, because the ball he hit didn’t land there. It went over it.
Three pitches into Minnesota’s first plate appearance of the game, Buxton got his arms extended on one of those smooth, confident swings that wreaked so much havoc on opposing pitchers in April. The sinker from Kansas City starter Daniel Lynch carried, carried and carried some more, as a career-long 457-foot blast for Buxton started the Twins’ offense before they couldn’t finish things hours later in a 6-4 loss to the Royals in 11 innings on Friday.
“We have some guys that can do some pretty amazing things on the field,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “That’s coming from one of the most explosive athletes in the game, who now also owns some of the longest home runs that we’ve hit this year. Buck’s pretty fun to watch, whether you’re a manager or coach or teammate or a fan of the Twins.”
Minnesota had a chance to take advantage of a great defensive play by Jorge Polanco and end things in the 10th inning, when Luis Arraez took a leadoff walk to put a pair on base for Buxton. But hours after hitting the longest homer of his career, Buxton attempted to drop down a bunt with nobody out and popped it straight up for an easy out before a flyout and lineout ended the threat.
“I think Buck was just trying to make something happen out on the field,” Baldelli said. “It wasn’t a sacrifice bunt. There was not a sign put on. I think he was just making something happen.”
That gave way to the top of the 11th, when Andrew Benintendi led off with a two-run blast, capping a four-hit, five-RBI day with two homers, sending the Twins to only their second extra-innings loss in their last 12 such games.
“Every year, every team has a couple of guys that are just thorns in their side,” Baldelli said of Benintendi. “He’s been that this year against us. It feels like every time we play them, no matter what’s going on, he finds a way to be productive, put good swings on the ball.”
Though rookie Griffin Jax allowed a three-run blast to Benintendi in the first, Buxton’s leadoff homer and a subsequent Josh Donaldson three-run blast -- his hardest-hit homer tracked by Statcast (since 2015), at 113.6 mph -- gave Minnesota a 4-3 lead before the Twins recorded an out. That offense later died down after Kansas City tied the game, with 12 Twins in a row retired from the fourth to eighth innings, and no hits beyond the fourth, helping send the game to extras.
Considering Buxton finished his evening 1-for-4 with the homer, his feel at the plate might still not be all the way back following his two months on the injured list with a broken left hand, as he entered Friday night 6-for-49 with a homer and two doubles since his Aug. 27 return. But that towering shot in the first inning showed that all that raw talent is still in there, ready to explode.
"He's just truly a special player,” Jax said. “Getting to watch a really amazing athlete play and just finally see him come out and be healthy and just get those consistent reps to really showcase who he is as an individual and an athlete, it's really fun to watch."
Even after missing 93 games with a right hip strain and the hand fracture, Buxton is now tied with Miguel Sanó for the team lead with three homers this season projected at 450 feet or longer. Nelson Cruz had two before his July 22 trade to the Rays, while rookies Trevor Larnach and Brent Rooker own one apiece.
What do the non-Buxton guys on that list have in common? Sanó is known almost exclusively for that easy, otherworldly power when he makes contact. Cruz’s prodigious power has been well-documented for a decade. Rooker is a power-first prospect, and Larnach figures to mature into a left-handed slugger once he returns to the big leagues.
As for Buxton? Power was never even his calling card -- though the potential was always there. It’s the speed and defense that have carried his career to this point -- until the hit and power tools started to arrive in a big way over the last three seasons, with the latter still enough to put his name against those of the Twins’ big boppers.
Heck, when he’s seeing the ball well, he’s showing he should probably be called one of those big boppers himself. Just ask the folks seated in the Delta Sky360 Suite.
“You know, normal human beings cannot hit the ball to center field like that,” Baldelli said. “And he’s a lean, wiry, strong guy and he can do stuff like that. It was a very good swing.”