Chants of "MVP! MVP!" reverberated through Target Field on Thursday.
Sure, the seventh game of a 162-game season might be a little soon to crown Byron Buxton the best player in the American League. But with a large group of fans rooting for the Twins in person at Target Field for the first time in the COVID-19 pandemic, a little hyperbole is understandable.
Buxton, the Twins' center fielder, hit cleanup for the first time in his career and belted his fourth home run of the young season in a 10-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners before 9,675 in the home opener. He also doubled and singled, raising his average to .421.
He certainly put his strength on display on the first pitch he saw from Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, smacking a double down the left-field line. His fifth-inning solo home run, which tied him for the major league lead, was a sky-high shot to left.
"Buck brings an energy to what we do. It's a lot of how he handles himself," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He's not a guy that is looking for that attention in any way, really, for himself. He's looking to win a baseball game and do it for his teammates."
Buxton set the tone for the rest of the lineup, which managed 16 hits against the Mariners. Each spot in the lineup reached base at least once Thursday. Mitch Garver hit a three-run homer in the third inning, with Luis Arraez adding his fifth career homer in the seventh; Andrelton Simmons added three hits.
Arraez said the "on-fire" Buxton has been carrying the team so far this year. And not even a rain delay could dampen the home-opening spirit.
Despite a 16-minute delay for showers, the Target Field atmosphere was lively. Starting pitcher Jose Berrios said he'd been waiting for this reunion for a long time. The fans acknowledged his outing — he picked up his second victory by throwing 5⅔ innings and striking out eight, giving up five hits, two runs and three walks — with a standing ovation as he doffed his hat.
"We always have something special. I told my wife when I pitched in Milwaukee, I said in a kidding way I was scared when they started rooting for the hitters," said Berrios, who had six no-hit innings against the Brewers on Saturday. "But the same thing happened when we are at home. They're cheering for us. When they make it louder when we've got two strikes or something like that, that's when we've got extra energy."
Even Baldelli, usually serious and discerning from his perch in the dugout, couldn't help but notice the crowd. He mentioned some antics near the outfield, possibly a raucous group who couldn't get enough of left fielder Kyle Garlick's every move.
"I like to look around. I do take some time once in a while to see what's going on in the ballpark and just see where the people are, who's having fun," Baldelli said after a 2020 season with no spectators. "Our fans were able to bring that to the table. It's a huge, uplifting thing for us."
Of course what really stood out to Baldelli — and everyone in Target Field's near vicinity — is how every time Buxton stepped up to the plate, that same mantra started up again.