MINNEAPOLIS — Byron Buxton admits the pain in his left big toe has yet to fully disappear.
This should not come as a surprise considering he suffered a hairline fracture in the toe when he fouled a ball off it during a minor-league rehab stint last month with Single-A Fort Myers.
But that made it even more astounding that Buxton was able to display his typical blinding speed on Tuesday night at Target Field following a seventh-inning bunt that was supposed to move Logan Morrison to third base after he opened the inning with a double.
Instead, Buxton dropped down the bunt in front of home plate, Cardinals reliever Luke Gregerson picked the ball up and, seeing how quickly Buxton was moving, hurriedly launched his throw past second baseman Kolten Wong, who was covering first, and down the right field line.
That enabled Morrison to score to give the Twins a 2-1 lead — Minnesota had broken a 16-inning scoreless drought an inning earlier on Eduardo Escobar’s single to center field to tie the score at 1-1 — and two batters later catcher Bobby Wilson’s home run to left provided the final runs in a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals.
Tuesday’s game marked Buxton’s fifth since he returned following a 21-game absence that began when he suffered from migraine headaches and then was extended because of the toe injury. In his first four games back, Buxton had hit .077 (1-for-13) with one run batted in.
“It’s just frustrating. I wouldn’t say it’s tough,” Buxton said of having missed an extended period. “More frustrating than tough, just not being able to get out there and compete every day and battle with my brothers.”
The Twins certainly missed Buxton, losing 11 of the first 12 games after he went out. Buxton is only hitting .175/.228/.217 with three RBIs and four stolen bases on the season, but despite those less-than-stellar numbers, his presence makes a difference. Max Kepler did a nice job subbing in center field during Buxton’s absence, but Buxton is a Gold Glove defender who can track down balls that others simply can’t get near because of his blinding speed.
Buxton also causes huge problems on the base paths, as he showed on Tuesday. Twins manager Paul Molitor made the point that Buxton’s bunt was an example that he doesn’t need to be perfect to cause problems.
“There’s a little lesson in that that we’ve tried to preach to him,” Molitor said. “He sacrifice bunts and he puts it right out in the middle, didn’t really get it close to a line and he still beats it out. (That shows) when he tries to bunt for hits he doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s more about just give himself a chance. But he did his job, it was rewarded with a misfire and gave us a chance to have a bigger inning.”
Said Buxton: “(Molitor) has told me that before. It doesn’t always take that perfect bunt to get on base. I put that in the back of my head and that certain situation, it was a sac bunt, so I was just trying to make sure I got the bunt down in a good spot.”
And even if Buxton’s toe was aching a bit, it didn’t slow him down. “As long as (the pain is) tolerable I want to be in the lineup,” he said.