Byron Buxton knew it all along.
His right knee first showed signs of trouble in the 2021 season, then a bit in spring training. Nothing too concerning. Baseball players play through little discomforts all the time. So the Twins center fielder didn't think much of it.
But when he slid into second base at Fenway Park on April 15, what was a minor irritation turned into a major issue. Buxton learned officially of the patellar tendinitis that would plague him for the rest of his 2022 season, ultimately ending it early as he's set for arthroscopic surgery Tuesday.
"That's when I found out exactly what it was I was dealing with," Buxton said of when he realized an operation was in his future. "[I] didn't want to miss none of the season, was playing good, and at the moment, I could play with it mentally and physically.
"... But at the time, it wasn't like it is now."
The 28-year-old played the last of his 92 games this season on Aug. 22, going on the injured list with a hip strain, a result of compensating for his knee. In trying to avoid that, he and the Twins devised a strategy of consistent rest days or designated hitter outings. Only once the team's postseason chances crumbled, sitting at 73-78 heading into Saturday's game, did Buxton agree to have the procedure.
Buxton — who signed a seven-year, $100 million extension this offseason — called dealing with his knee "a headache," adding he arrived to the stadium at least 4½ hours ahead of every game for various treatments. Despite that, he made his first All-Star Game and put up a career-high 28 home runs, with 51 RBI and a .224 batting average.
"It wasn't easy to see him at that level of pain, but he still found a way to go out there and be absolutely one of the best players in the game," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "That tells you a lot about his fight and who he is as a person and his determination."
The noninvasive procedure will clean up scar tissue and any ligament fraying, which will in turn reduce swelling. Recovery time is six to eight weeks, allowing Buxton to have a normal offseason to be ready for spring training.
Buxton said while his goal was to stay healthy and crack 100 games in a season for just the second time in his eight-year career, he still marks this season as positive overall.
"I'm just thankful to have been able to play the games I did," Buxton said. "Took a lot of hard work, not just from the trainers and the guys in here, but it's hard to make a lineup when you don't know each day how this is going to flare up for how this feels. They did a great job of knowing how to play me and play me the way that they did."
Batting title battle
At one point this season, Luis Arraez's batting average was 20 points higher than anyone else's. But just as the Twins' overall performance has slumped at the end of the season, so have Arraez's numbers. Now he's in a three-way fight for the American League batting title with 10 games left to play.
Boston's Xander Bogaerts (.315), the Yankees' Aaron Judge (.314) and Arraez (.312) are the contenders.
"It's not easy because everybody wants to see me get hits," Arraez said of the competition. "I want to hit, but especially September, right now, everybody's tired."
With the team almost surely out of the playoffs, Baldelli said he wants to see Arraez win this personal accolade "really bad." He's recognized that Arraez isn't quite at his best after a long season and can see a hamstring issue acting up when the utility player swings.
"I told him he should plan on being in this situation for many years to come," Baldelli said. "It should become something that is usual for him instead of living in a place where you're scoreboard-watching and living and dying by every at-bat."
Judge is trying for the Triple Crown, as he also leads the AL with 60 home runs and 128 RBI. But Arraez said he isn't gunning to break up that rare feat.
"If I win, I'm happy. If Aaron Judge wins, I'll be happy, too, Xander Bogaerts, whatever," Arraez said. "… I like to see those guys play like that."