'See ball, hit ball': Buxton keeps on raking

April 12th, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- Boos rained down from the 9,792 fans on hand in the Target Field bleachers after was plunked on the front shoulder by Mariners right-hander Will Vest, cutting short the outfielder's bid for a cycle in the seventh inning.

Needless to say, fans never like to see one of their hitters deprived of a shot at the record books -- and doubly so when the hitter in question is one of the hottest hitters on the planet.

Buxton entered Sunday as the Majors’ leader in slugging percentage -- and further padded that to a 1.185 mark with another homer and double as part of a three-hit, four-RBI performance. That still wasn’t enough. The Mariners mounted a comeback on Alex Colomé in the ninth, punctuated by Kyle Seager’s go-ahead, three-run homer as the Twins fell 8-6 and dropped their first series of the season.

“We can't let these games get us down,” Buxton said. “We learn from them and keep going. We're in the clubhouse now, it's not quiet. Yeah, we lost. But it's not the end of the world. You've got to come back out tomorrow and compete again.”

The Twins’ center fielder is once again tied for the Major League lead with five homers, and he extended his season-opening hitting streak to eight games -- the second-longest of his career behind a 12-game stretch in 2017. He also finished a triple shy of the cycle for the second time in the series.

With Buxton hitting so well, the Twins moved him into the cleanup spot for the first time in his career in this series -- and he took full advantage of the opportunity to produce more runs.

“I think just moving him up in general in the lineup, with the way he’s swinging the bat just made sense,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s not just about production. It’s about confidence.”

Buxton just didn’t get enough help on Sunday. Colomé and starter Matt Shoemaker were hurt by the long ball as the Twins allowed eight unanswered runs and surrendered a 6-0 lead. Shoemaker allowed a homer to Kyle Seager and another to Taylor Trammell before he was ejected in the sixth. Seager struck again three innings later, getting the better of Colomé.

Buxton’s first-inning single came a batter too late to knock in a run, but he stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the third and came through with a sharp line drive to right field for a two-run double. The big blow came in the fifth, when he followed Nelson Cruz’s leadoff walk by crushing a hanging fastball an estimated 428 feet into the Twins’ bullpen in left-center field.

The results on the stat sheet obviously speak plenty to Buxton’s torrid start to the season. With five homers, four doubles and four singles, he matched Cristian Guzman for the most extra-base hits through the first nine team games of a season in Twins/Senators franchise history.

The underlying numbers paint just as rosy of a picture. Buxton has put 22 batted balls in play this season, and 16 have qualified as hard-hit -- with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. That includes all four of his batted balls on Sunday, which carried velocities of 108 mph (single), 95.9 mph (double), 110.8 mph (home run) and 97.7 mph (flyout).

He entered Sunday with five barreled balls on the season -- two shy of the MLB lead shared by Shohei Ohtani and Cruz -- and added two more during the game.

“It's been fun,” Buxton said. “It's more see-ball, hit-ball. You've got to keep it simple.”

He says that with the confidence and maturity of a man who has already been through a lot in this game. With the added worldview of a man who welcomed his second son, Blaze, to his family last summer, Buxton’s renewed perspective on how baseball fits into his life seems to have him in as good of a place mentally as ever before.

And he’s taking full advantage.

“This is sport,” Buxton said. “I've got a family to take care of. That's my goal. I'm a dad. I want to take care of my kids, do what I've got to do for them. At the end of the day, this is a game. I love to play the game. The more you love it, the more fun you have -- you come out here and you'll be yourself. It's a game. It's that simple to me now.”