Byron Buxton raced around the bases all afternoon Sunday, his worth-the-price-of-admission speed on full display for the Minnesota Twins.
The right knee trouble he's been fighting all season sure looked like an afterthought.
“It’s a very fun part of my game,” Buxton said, “to be able to hit the ball in the gap and run and get that electricity going throughout the dugout.”
Buxton had three hits, including an RBI triple for the second straight game, in the Twins' 6-3 win over the Colorado Rockies that stretched their division lead ahead of a pivotal series against Cleveland.
“His stride is really something," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "Everything he’s dealt with, you probably haven’t seen it as much as you normally would, but when you see it, it’s fun and special. His legs have been a difference maker. Those bases matter.”
Max Kepler added two hits and two RBIs for the Twins, who have a two-game lead in the AL Central. They hit the road for five games in four days against the Guardians, who overtook the Twins for one day this week only to lose four straight — including a sweep at home by Boston. The Twins have led the division for 65 of 82 days this season.
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The Rockies, on the other hand, finished their road trip 1-5 and scored only six runs in their last four games.
“Right now, it’s difficult, but the worm will turn,” manager Bud Black said.
Joe Ryan (6-3) grinded through 102 pitches over five innings for his first win in more than a month.
The Twins — who lead the majors in first-inning runs — gave Ryan a boost with a three-run first against Rockies starter Ryan Feltner (1-3). Kepler, Alex Kirilloff and Gio Urshela all hit consecutive RBI singles.
The triple by Buxton, who also doubled, singled and scored three times, keyed a two-run second inning. He scorched Feltner's slider into the gap in left center and lunged head-first into third base.
“You really can’t find another athlete on the field that can do what he can do,” Ryan said. “He’s probably the most exciting player in the game.”
Better, but ...
Charlie Blackmon took Ryan deep in the third inning for his 12th homer of the season, between RBI doubles by C.J. Cron (first inning) and Yonathan Daza (fourth inning).
But the Rockies stranded 11 runners, bringing the season total to 531 for the third-most in the majors. They even left the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth inning after Daza's smash went straight to reliever Caleb Thielbar for a quick catch.
Daza chucked his bat in frustration after the bad-luck ball. Then Emilio Pagán induced Blackmon into a fielder's choice force out and struck out Cron.
“If they're feeling it at that moment, it's fine, as long as they regroup and focus,” Black said.
Buxton had been held out of the starting lineup for three straight games to rest his persistently sore and swollen right knee. He'd gone almost three years without a triple until hitting one Saturday in a 6-0 win over the Rockies. He also scored from first base on Sunday on Kepler's two-out double in the seventh down the left-field line to give the Twins some insurance.
Buxton tripled in consecutive games twice during the 2017 season.
Working his way back
Ryan, who leads all major league rookies in wins, has not yet rediscovered in three starts since returning from COVID-19. He's logged 15 2/3 innings with 20 hits, 10 runs and four home runs allowed with only 11 strikeouts.
Pagán, Tyler Duffey and Jhoan Duran picked him up Sunday with a stellar finish.
“I’ve seen some fortitude and some unwillingness to break in some very challenging spots,” Baldelli said. “There were base runners out there all day long.”
Rockies: 3B Kris Bryant, who has missed 50 games over the last two months with two separate injured list stints, has been cleared to return from his rehab assignment and can rejoin the team in Denver on Monday. He could be activated prior to the game.
Twins: RHP Joe Smith was placed on the 15-day injured list with tightness in his upper trapezoid muscle, which is around the neck. LHP Jovani Moran was recalled from Triple-A St. Paul to take Smith's place in the bullpen, his third stint in the majors this season.
Rockies: RHP Chad Kuhl (4-5, 3.95 ERA) pitches Monday night to begin a three-game series against Los Angeles. It's the first of 17 straight games against division foes, including 10 matchups with the NL West's top two teams. LHP Tyler Anderson (8-0, 3.00 ERA) starts for the Dodgers.
Twins: RHP Sonny Gray (3-1, 2.53 ERA) will open the five-game series Monday night in Cleveland, with RHP Triston McKenzie (4-5, 3.51 ERA) taking the mound for the home team. Gray and McKenzie were the starting pitchers here on Wednesday night when the Guardians won 11-10.