TORONTO – Byron Buxton didn’t leave his feet to make a supernatural catch Sunday, didn’t throw a runner out at the plate (though he came awfully close), didn’t save any children from a burning building.
“It’s too bad,” Kyle Gibson deadpanned about Buxton’s not-quite laser from center field that nearly snuffed Miguel Montero as he tried to score on a second-inning single. “That would have been a nice day for him.”
Oh well. The Twins had to settle for this pedestrian performance: three home runs, four hits, five RBI and even his 19th consecutive stolen base. Plus a 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays that locked up his team’s second winning series in Rogers Centre since 2005 and lifted it to a 1½-game lead in the race for the second American League wild-card spot.
“He kind of stood out,” understated manager Paul Molitor. “The two games we won up here, he had huge impact in both of those games.”
Never bigger than this one. Buxton, his batting average below .200 as recently as July 4, might have announced his arrival as a force at the plate with a trio of blasts over the left field wall, making him the eighth Twins player — and fourth in the past two seasons — to club three in a game. Eddie Rosario accomplished the feat June 13 against Seattle, while Max Kepler and Brian Dozier did it last year.
Even Buxton seemed surprised — though after his second homer, teammates made it clear, via how they were staring at him, that they expected more.
“They were kind of like, ‘All right, you’ve got one chance at this,’ ” Buxton said. “But I had no intentions, not even close. I was just trying to have a quality at-bat, get on base and try to push across another run.”
Had he ever hit three homers in a game at any level? “Never,” Buxton said emphatically — nor even two homers. “Ev-er.”
The Twins left the bases loaded in the first and third innings and were locked in a 1-1 tie in the fourth when Buxton first struck, lacing an 0-1 curveball into the Toronto bullpen. That was the best one, Molitor judged, because it scored Joe Mauer, who led off with a triple but was still on third with two outs, but also because of the hitting savvy Buxton displayed. An inning earlier, he was retired on a tapper to third after seeing three consecutive curveballs from Joe Biagini.
“He saw three curveballs again, and the last one ended up over the fence,” Molitor said. “He made some nice adjustments in the game.”
Buxton wasn’t done. In the seventh, he belted a 1-2 slider from Matt Dermody into the second deck near the foul pole. And in the ninth, the electricity in the dugout was obvious when Buxton came to the plate, Molitor said.
“Everyone was kind of top-stepping it, with the day he was having. He didn’t make us wait very long,” Molitor said of Buxton’s first-pitch encore, an easy swing that tucked the baseball just inside the pole once more. “They all had a nice sound. You get a nice reverberation where I stand. They were no-doubters.”
Once the Twins started hitting, the whole game was a no-doubter, thanks to Gibson’s second consecutive solid start. Just like Tuesday in Chicago, Gibson settled into a rhythm after a couple of innings, and he retired 13 of the final 15 hitters he faced.
Most importantly, Molitor said: After Jorge Polanco dropped a flip from Dozier in the second inning, turning what should have been an inning-ending double play into a stress-inducing error, Gibson simply regrouped and got another double-play grounder from Ezequiel Carrera. “We’ve had some games we’ve let slip away the past couple weeks, where we’d make a misplay, and then we don’t minimize the damage,” Molitor said. “So to get another ground ball right after that, I thought that was a big momentum changer for us.”
Just like Buxton is so often for the Twins these days.
“It’s neat to watch him make plays in center field look easy, and watch him take easy swings that [go] over the fence,” Gibson said. “He’s really coming into his own.”