Buxton's baserunning keys win: 'He makes things happen'

April 2nd, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- Kyle Farmer lofted a ball to very shallow center field and thought there was no chance it would bring the runner home from third.

But he neglected to account for the fact that he’s now teammates with .

“I thought there was no shot,” Farmer said. “I turned around and looked, and I was like, ‘Oh, Byron’s over there. He might go.’ I thought he was going to fake, but then he just went. It was awesome.”

Buxton may be a designated hitter right now due to his knee issues from last season, but don’t forget that he can still turn on the jets like, well, Byron Buxton. His wheels produced a key sixth-inning insurance run as Sonny Gray and a quartet of relievers blanked the Royals for another 2-0 victory on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium, handing the Twins consecutive shutout wins to open a season for the first time in franchise history.

“It’s definitely picking and choosing [my spots], but anything to kind of jump-start the team is what I’m trying to do,” Buxton said.

Last season, Buxton wasn’t able to take full advantage of his trademark speed because he and the Twins had to so carefully manage his troublesome right knee. But he’s now able to really cut it loose again on the basepaths -- with dazzling results.

He led off the sixth inning with a bloop single to right field and moved to second on a passed ball by Royals catcher Salvador Perez. That’s where the fun began. When Jose Miranda hit a grounder to shortstop, Buxton made an instinctual read to take off -- and it tempted Bobby Witt Jr. to make a futile throw to third base, where Buxton slid in under the tag.

“Buxton, he is right in front of [Witt]. Looked like, ‘Oh, we got a shot at him,’” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “But Buxton’s one of, if not the fastest guy in the league. He makes things happen on the bases. Get the out, and you have two outs and a guy on third.”

Instead, the Twins had runners on the corners and one out, bringing Farmer to the plate as a pinch-hitter against left-handed reliever Ryan Yarbrough. Center fielder Kyle Isbel ran nearly halfway to the infield from his starting position to snag the flare -- but he didn’t get far enough behind the ball to make a strong throw, perhaps not thinking that Buxton would try for home on such a shallow fly.

Buxton was ready.

“I see you flat-footed, I’m like, ‘I don’t care who you are, it’s going to be tough to throw me out,’” Buxton said.

He scored standing up, reaching a sprint speed of 30.1 feet per second on the play, classified as elite. His average sprint speed on competitive runs was 29.1 feet per second last season.

“You can hit it anywhere, and he’s going to score for you,” Farmer said. “The guy’s an unbelievable athlete. I’ve never played with somebody like that. He’s just a one-of-one player.”

Buxton was responsible for the game’s first run, too, as he stretched a two-out hit into a double in the first inning -- slamming his face in the dirt on an awkward slide -- before he scored on Miranda’s RBI single. Manager Rocco Baldelli has preached aggressive baserunning and putting pressure on defenses since the start of camp, and Buxton already has championed the cause in a way that only he can, using all his natural talents.

The Twins are still approaching the start of the season carefully with Buxton, who is being limited to the DH spot only to take the stress off his knee as he builds back to playing defense more gradually.

In fact, Buxton acknowledged that not playing center field has put him in a better position to go all-out on the basepaths when he deems it necessary -- and that proved significant in both runs scored by Minnesota on Saturday.

And if there was any question as to whether Buxton’s knee would be good enough for him to play at his best, Saturday’s effort started to put that to bed.

“He pushed the envelope again, so shout out to the training staff and medical staff to get Byron Buxton moving like that on Game Two of the season,” Baldelli said. “That’s pretty fun to watch on our end. We know that he’s going to be able to affect a lot of games if he’s moving like that."