A couple of extras from a three-hour, 28-minute 2-0 game in freezing weather:
Byron Buxton was the game’s final batter on Monday. He nearly caused there to be more.
When an 84-mph slider from Astros closer Ken Giles creased the middle of the plate during his two-out, ninth-inning at-bat, Buxton pounced. He launched the ball about 360 feet down the left field line and threw the bat away, hopeful that he had tied the game with his first home run of the season.
He thought it would stay fair “for a little bit,” Buxton said afterward. “And then when it got toward the outfield, you could tell it started changing direction.”
It landed just to the left of the foul pole, a blast that had the crowd cheering, then groaning as it went foul.
“He got it out there a fair amount,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, “but he’s been hooking some balls lately.”
Still, it was close enough that Molitor asked umpires to review it, just in case it had curled around the pole. No luck. And Buxton grounded out on a 98-mph fastball three pitches later to end the game.
The disappointment ended an 0-for-4 night for Buxton and dragged his average to .161 on the season. But the 24-year-old outfielder doesn’t believe this is one of those slow starts that have bedeviled him in his first three seasons. He’s happy with how he’s hitting, and has faith the results will come.
“I feel like I’ve been in a pretty good spot all year. My comfortability is there. Confidence is there. It’s just not falling our way yet,” Buxton said. “That’s baseball. Eventually things are going to start falling our way.”
Miguel Sano struck out three times on Monday, the third such game he’s had in eight starts this season. But like Buxton, Sano’s process is good, it’s just the results that are bad at the moment, Molitor said.
“I haven’t felt the need to” talk to the slugger about all the whiffs, Molitor said. “We’ve seen, even in at-bats that have been strikeouts, a lot of them have been pretty good. He’s been taking walks and seeing seven or eight pitches on his at-bats, too. Given that we haven’t had consistent games and the production has been decent, when we’ve needed a good at-bat, he’s given it to me.”
Indeed, Sano leads the Twins with eight RBIs, and he’s homered three times. And strikeouts, the Twins know, are just part of his game. Monday was the 53rd game in his career that Sano has whiffed three times; though he’s only 24, he has already long since blown past the franchise record for such games. Harmon Killebrew had 43 three-K games in 14 seasons in Minnesota, which stood as the record until last summer.
Molitor said it’s difficult to judge anyone yet, considering how disruptive the schedule and the weather have been thus far.
“I’ve got to get these guys to understand, we just haven’t really settled into consistent at-bats and consistent play and conducive conditions,” he said. The message? “Keep grinding. Hold your own as best you can until we can get used to playing day in and day out, which we haven’t done yet.”