There have been long moments of frustration with Byron Buxton for Twins followers. As well as a learning process, strikeout-filled slumps and the constant injuries that were deemed by many to reflect a personal shortcoming rather than horrible luck.
There were 50 coaches and teammates and ex-players trying to come up with one secret that would create more consistent contact. Who can forget the magic that would come from employing a leg kick?
The legend of the injuries became that if Buxton would stop running into fences he could stay in the lineup. When you're the best center fielder on the planet, you're getting to more balls in full flight, and there can be a mishap.
Yet, in truth, a majority of the down time has come from joints, muscles and bones that bent the wrong way on a slide, a race to a base or a dive attempting to pull off the spectacular. Or that have gotten in the way of a pitched baseball.
On Tuesday night, Buxton was starting for the 43rd time in the Twins' 49th game of the season. All of those have been as the designated hitter, which has led to more complaints that he should be playing center field with some regularity.
When Buxton left for a pinch hitter late in Saturday's game in Anaheim, the alarm sounded. He had leg soreness, was out of the lineup Sunday and the outcry became: "Here we go again.''
Buxton was back in the lineup Monday, and on Tuesday, he hit a two-run home run to give the Twins a head start. He also had an infield hit and a stolen base.
Unhappily for the home crowd, Sonny Gray lost command in the sixth, and Jovani Moran, Brock Stewart and Jorge López (especially López) eventually coughed up a three-run lead to give the feisty Giants a 4-3 victory.
The conversation earlier in manager Rocco Baldelli's office had to do with Buxton's phenomenal base running the last time the Twins won a game — 6-2 on Saturday vs. the Angels. And the point was this:
All those injuries, how is it possible this 29 ½-year-old still can be the fastest man in baseball cleats?
Against the Angels, he hit a double-play ball, as routine as it gets, beat the relay by a stride, and it became three runs in the top of the first for the Twins rather than zero. Later, he twice went first-to-third — with a hesitation fake at second — without drawing a throw from right fielder Hunter Renfroe, owner of an excellent throwing arm.
"He had a week's worth of high-speed, impactful type of plays,'' Baldelli said. "We went 2-4 on the road trip, but almost every game he did something with his legs — just with his legs — that dramatically affected the game in our favor. It felt like every time I looked up, he was gliding around the field and making the other team rush.
"… I loved seeing it. That's the kind of stuff he can do. That's what makes him different than anyone else on the field. We're getting a chance to see that more and more, I think, as the season goes on.''
Baldelli then expanded on a theory I've come to share: If Buxton can stay in the lineup with regularity as a DH, fret not about center field for 2023.
"As a DH, it's probably allowing him to conserve a little bit to be able to do those things on the bases,'' Baldelli said. "If he were in the field, and trying to play there on a reasonably regular basis, you might not see that stuff on the bases due to the amount of running that he would have to do.
"He went first to third right in people's faces. He beat out double plays. He was stealing bases and creating mayhem on the field. When he's playing like that, defenders don't know what to do … They probably change their minds three times on a play trying to figure out what they're going to do.''
Baldelli mentioned an old Rays scout that would state there was a player in the draft who could mess up a defense. Stronger word, and the scout would only use it to describe a draft candidate every couple of years, Baldelli said.
"Those guys usually can only run,'' the manager said. "But Buck … he can do so many more things.''
For now, playing with regularity as a DH is plenty, unless Buxton wants to go all-Shohei Ohtani and return to his prep fire-balling ways out of Baldelli's leaking bullpen.