HOUSTON – Get ready for Byron Buxton: Unleashed.
The speedy Twins center fielder, the most difficult base-stealer to throw out in modern history, said he was “relieved” to be tagged out for the first time in nearly two years Monday night. His franchise-record streak of 33 consecutive successful steal attempts, he said, had made him try to be too perfect — and thus, less aggressive than he intends to be now.
“Now, I get to run,” Buxton said, a frightening prospect for MLB catchers, who have thrown the 25-year-old Buxton out only six times in 56 chances. “There have been some times when I felt great on the bases and it’s like, ‘Man, he’s got a cannon.’ My first thought was, ‘I don’t want to get thrown out, so I’m not going to run.’ Instead of, ‘You know what, I’m going to run. I don’t care how good you are.’ ”
He was aware of his streak, he said — too aware.
“It was still on the passive side,” he said. “It was the one thing holding me back, instead of me just going.”
Sure enough, after hitting a two-out single in the seventh Tuesday night, he promptly stole his fifth base of the season. With Max Kepler at third, he didn’t draw a throw from catcher Max Stassi.
For all his speed, Buxton has never stolen more than 29 bases in one season, back in 2017, which only ranks 19th in Twins history, well behind Chuck Knoblauch’s franchise record of 62 in 1997.
Buxton said he was surprised to be called out Monday, when Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos’ throw landed directly in Carlos Correa’s glove as he slid into it — and he wasn’t the only one unsure.
“Correa was like, ‘I think I got you, but I don’t know.’ And I was like, ‘Well, then, I’m going to stay right here until they figure it out,’ ” Buxton said. “Once I was out, I was like, ‘You know what, I’ll just start it over.’ I just took the positive side of it. Tip my cap — I’m coming. I’m coming back.”
He will certainly get the chance. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has said Buxton has permission to try to steal a base whenever he chooses, figuring his 89.3% success rate — by comparison, for example, stolen base record-holder Rickey Henderson was safe 80.8% of the time — will pay big dividends.
Which means Monday’s most shocking play might be the best thing that could have happened for the Twins.
“I kind of took it as a learning curve. If I don’t get thrown out, how am I going to know what I’m doing wrong on the bases?” Buxton said. “So it kind of taught me what I need to do. I went back and looked at video to see what I did wrong.”
And what was that? Buxton shrugged.
“It was just a great throw,” he said.
Stewart gets nod
Kohl Stewart will get an unexpected chance to pitch again in his hometown. The Houston native, who threw five scoreless innings in Minute Maid Park last September, was called up from Class AAA Rochester after Tuesday’s game and will start the series finale Wednesday.
And just like last year, Stewart will be facing a steep challenge when he takes the mound: Justin Verlander. The former MVP and Cy Young winner earned the victory during Stewart’s first game here a year ago, allowing one run over seven innings.
Stewart, the Twins’ first-round pick in 2013, has made three starts for Rochester this year, giving up 15 runs (but just eight of them earned), over 12 innings for a 6.00 ERA.
The Twins did not announce a move to make room for Stewart, but will do so Wednesday morning. They presumably will option a pitcher, but with 28 games scheduled over the next 29 days, could choose to expand the pitching staff to 13 by optioning a position player.
The Twins were apparently considering a “bullpen game” to fill the vacancy created by last Friday’s rainout, but used every member of the bullpen in the past two days, including four relievers on Tuesday. “It’s possible that some of the things that went on tonight could have affected” the decision, Baldelli said.