MINNEAPOLIS -- When Byron Buxton is on one of his hot streaks, there are very few sights in baseball quite like it. He makes things look just about effortless as his compact, explosive swing perfectly intersects the flight of a pitch for homer after homer after homer.
Well, until he doesn’t. Not all long balls are created equal, and when Buxton went yard twice for a second straight game to power the Twins’ 9-4 win over the Rays on Friday, the second blast was a particularly impressive show of strength as he extended his arms to reach a breaking ball out of the zone, down and away, and still lifted it out of Target Field on a line to left-center field.
“He just found a way to get the barrel on it, and it was enough to get it where it needed to go,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I’m sure he’ll do something next week or tomorrow that we haven’t seen him do before. That’s what it’s all about. That’s some greatness right there.”
That shot got the Twins’ decisive six-run rally underway in the fifth inning. Minnesota’s offense once again cruised and dealt a season high in runs allowed to the opposing starter for a fifth consecutive game, this time knocking around Drew Rasmussen and his 3.02 ERA entering the game to the tune of seven runs.
In the past five games, Minnesota’s offense has tallied a combined 27 runs against Kevin Gausman, Jameson Taillon, Nestor Cortes, Gerrit Cole and Rasmussen -- and it’s no coincidence that coincides with the stretch in which Buxton’s bat has roared to life following its 0-for-30 slumber through much of May. Following his two blasts off Rasmussen, Buxton has six homers in his last six games and a .393/.485/1.107 line in June.
He also homered twice off Cole in Thursday’s series finale against the Yankees, making him the fourth player in Twins history to hit multiple homers in consecutive games, joining Don Mincher (1963), Kirby Puckett (1987) and Eddie Rosario (2019).
"Just more quality at-bats, trying to get on base a little bit more,” Buxton said. “See ball, hit ball. Keeping it more simple rather than going into that little streak or whatever. You overthink a little bit and things just kind of speed up on you. I slowed the game back down a little bit more. You slow the game down and let it come back to you, and eventually, the hits that you hit hard start to fall, and things like this start to happen."
Buxton’s blast off Rasmussen in the first inning was the sort that the Twins have seen plenty of times before: hanging slider, launched out to straightaway left field. When Buxton’s going well, he rarely misses pitches like that.
The second blast, though, was a two-strike slider that dropped out of the zone, as was seemingly the intention, the kind of pitch that Buxton swung through with much more regularity in such situations earlier in his career, when he was more of a dead-on fastball hitter. These are the adjustments he has made throughout his career -- and when he’s locked in to the extent that he has been this week, his extreme talent and physical capabilities can win out.
“He stays through it so well,” Baldelli said. “The way his body works and his hand strength, to be able to go down and stay through that ball, almost like dragging the bat and slowing it down for a second as he’s getting down there. Pretty cool when you see stuff like that.”
This recent stretch has Buxton surging right back up the Majors’ homer leaderboard, where he now sits tied for second with Yordan Alvarez at 17, five behind MLB leader Aaron Judge. As this explosive week has shown, Buxton is capable of making up that ground awfully quickly, and it’s worth noting that he has hit those dingers in 186 plate appearances, as compared to 220 for Alvarez and 247 for Judge.
With Buxton firing on all cylinders and both Luis Arraez (right shoulder tightness) and Carlos Correa (COVID-19) finally reunited with him atop the Twins’ lineup, Minnesota has a recipe to do some serious damage -- and it’s no surprise that those three combined to go 7-for-15 with three homers and five runs scored to lead the way in Friday’s game.
Not even some of the Majors’ best starters have been able to stand in their way.