CLEVELAND – In 57 games this season, Byron Buxton has set a career high with 20 home runs. And it's only late June.
Pessimists will note that the Twins have actually played 76 games, including the 3-2 loss — which Buxton entered as a late-game pinch hitter — and 6-0 victory in Tuesday's doubleheader in Cleveland.
But the reason why Buxton's only appeared in 79% of the games this year is because he's playing through patellar tendinitis, and the Twins rest him every few games in hopes of avoiding an injured list stay or worse.
When Buxton sent his 427-foot leadoff homer over the center field wall in the ninth inning of Tuesday's second game, it bested the 19 he hit last season, which he accomplished in 61 games because of injuries.
"At some point I was going to hit 20. It took longer than what I expected, but it's cool," Buxton said. "It's a great accomplishment. But for me, as long as we're winning, staying in first and controlling our destiny, that's kind of my bigger picture."
And the Twins are fulfilling that goal. They're 43-34 and in the American League Central lead, three games ahead of the 37-34 Guardians. It could have been a five-game gap, because the Twins took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning of the first game only for Emilio Pagan to blow his fifth save of the season. He walked his first two batters, threw a wild pitch that advanced them into scoring position and then gave up an RBI single to Amed Rosario that stood up as the game-winner.
That was after Devin Smeltzer struck out a career-high nine hitters through the first six innings, Gilberto Celestino hit an RBI triple in the seventh and Carlos Correa smacked a solo homer in the top of the eighth.
Even after signing a big contract extension this past offseason, Buxton is always quick to highlight the team's achievements rather than his own. He praised Jorge Polanco, who came off his first MLB IL stint for lower back tightness to start the second game Tuesday and went 2-for-4 with three RBI — including a two-run homer — and a walk. Luis Arraez also slapped a RBI triple in the third, and Jose Miranda hit a solo homer in the sixth. Starter Josh Winder, who went six innings, and relievers Tyler Duffey and Jovani Moran combined for the shutout.
But when Buxton learned postgame that in his past 162 games — which stretches back to the end of the 2019 season — he's hit 52 home runs, he was stunned.
"Dang, that's surprising to me. Yeah, that's kind of dope," Buxton said with a big smile. "… Granted, it's 162 games not all together, but just to, I guess, see what could possibly happen in a 162-game season, it's fun. That kind of got me. That kind of got me going now."
Buxton added that made him "itchy" to make that a reality within a season, given he's only reached 100 games once in his eight MLB seasons.
- Byron Buxton's last 162 games: AB 582, Runs 112, Hits 155, 2B 36, 3B 2, HR 52, RBI 97
"Whatever we bring to the table, we bring more to the table when Byron Buxton is playing," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "… Even when he's not 100 percent, he's a star."