Byron Buxton launched a baseball more than 450 feet on Sunday, but he's done that before. Seven times, in fact.
Maybe that's why he sounded more enthused, after the Twins' 8-4 victory over the Royals before an announced 17,150 at Target Field, about the run he scored an inning earlier, after a second-inning double. He was standing on third base when he received his instructions from coach Tommy Watkins for a play he had executed only three times in his career, and just once as a runner.
"Yeah, it was" exciting, Buxton said. "Been awhile since I had a squeeze sign. I was like, 'You sure this is a squeeze?' Tommy was like, 'Yeah, it's a squeeze, man.' All right! I'll take off! If something happens, it's on you!"
Something did happen: Nick Gordon laid down a textbook bunt, Buxton jogged home, and the first-place Twins were on their way to their sixth victory in seven games vs. the Royals this season.
"He's absolutely one of the best players in the world," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of his hottest hitter. "We've seen him hit some of the longer home runs that you'll see. He's running the bases good. He's doing a lot of things for us right now."
And he isn't even the Twins' best player so far this year.
That would be Sonny Gray, who feasted on his favorite overmatched foil for six masterful innings and closed the month with a 0.77 ERA. Gray, who pitched five shutout innings in Kansas City in his 2023 debut, this time gave up a run, but only one, to beat the Royals for the ninth consecutive start and finish April having surrendered only three total runs in six starts.
"I don't know if anyone in baseball could have had a better month than what Sonny Gray just gave us," Baldelli said. "For much of the month, he pitched great. He cruised. When things got difficult, when runners got on base, he was even better."
No kidding. Hitters are 4-for-35 (.114) with runners in scoring position against Gray this year, 1-for-8 on Sunday.
"He seems very, very tough in those spots," Baldelli said. "He doesn't give in. He makes better and better pitches when he has to."
If his victory was practically preordained, the Twins offense — Buxton in particular — made sure there was no suspense about it. The opposite-field double and safety squeeze run only set up the big blow: a seven-run third inning, which began innocently enough with strikeouts to two of the first three hitters, Max Kepler's walk in between them. But Royals starter Brady Singer walked Carlos Correa, too, and Buxton blasted a 1-1 sinker that didn't sink an estimated 452 feet into the second row of the third deck in left field.
His reward? The Twins' newly designated home-run laurel: A fishing vest that reads "Land of 10,000 Rakes" on the back and a children's toy fishing pole.
"Didn't see the fishing pole coming," Buxton said with a laugh. "When you think about it, 10,000 lakes, you kind of get a little picture. Just something to bring a little bit more fun to the dugout."
The fun continued as Singer unraveled, giving up a single to Trevor Larnach and hitting Joey Gallo with a pitch. After a mound conference, Gordon singled Larnach home, Willi Castro did the same for Gallo, and Singer's day was done.
Christian Vázquez greeted reliever Josh Staumont with a two-run single to right, and the Twins had their biggest inning since the nine-run outburst vs. the Yankees in New York on April 13.
Kansas City added an unearned run off reliever Emilio Pagán, and two more runs against Josh Winder, forcing Jhoan Duran to record the final out by inducing a shallow pop fly to right by Edward Olivares. For throwing seven pitches, Duran earned his sixth save in seven attempts this year, and his second save where he had to record only one out.