Dammit. Just, dammit.
Look, maybe I’m being greedy. This has been a pretty incredible season, in terms of individual performances. Mets ace Jacob deGrom is dominating in a way we’ve never seen a pitcher dominate. Angels ace/DH Shohei Ohtani is doing things we’ve never seen on a baseball diamond. The Juniors — Vlad Guerrero, Fernando Tatis and Ronald Acuña — are playing like super-duper stars. Potential fulfilled is such a great thing to watch play out.
It’s all very, very exciting. The future of the sport is so very bright.
And yet? Byron Buxton landed on the injured list again Tuesday. Big deal, you might say. Wake me when he’s not on the shelf, you might say. Water is wet, Buxton is hurt, you might say.
Shut up, I definitely will say.
Buxton is special. He’s a special talent, and he’s a special player who has had to work harder to overcome more injury obstacles than any two or three normal players combined. He’s earned a long-awaited breakthrough season.
And for a short time this spring, it looked like 2021 might actually be his year. In the 24 games to start the season before he landed on the IL, Buxton hit .370 with nine homers, five stolen bases and a 1.180 OPS. His graceful stride was again patrolling the outfield for the Twins. It was glorious.
Buxton was the Byron we’ve always known he could be, fulfilling the talent that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft and a top-two spot in Baseball America’s prospect rankings for three straight years.
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But then, the hip injury. Buxton missed 40 games. He came back and went 3-for-9 in his first two games, with a double, a homer and two RBIs. In his third at-bat of his third game back, though, he was hit on the hand by a 94-mph Tyler Mahle fastball.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli called it a “boxer’s fracture,” a broken bone (base of the fifth metacarpal of his left hand.
“This isn’t fair,” Baldelli said in his postgame press conference.
Damn right it isn’t. Downright cruel, actually.
How good has Buxton been when he’s on the field this year? Let’s put it this way: In his 27 games, Buxton has a 3.0 bWAR. That’s ninth in the majors heading into action on Tuesday.
Ninth. He’s played 27 games.
Every other hitter in the top 30 has played at least 49 games. That 3.0 is ahead of Acuña, who has 20 homers and 15 stolen bases. It’s ahead of Ohtani (as a hitter), who has 23 homers. It’s ahead of Nick Castellanos, who leads the majors with a .341 average. It’s ahead of Jose Altuve, Manny Machado, Matt Olson, Rafael Devers and so many other players having great seasons. Mike Trout was having a great season, too, before injuries landed him on the IL. In his 36 games, he posted a 2.0 bWAR.
Again, Buxton was at 3.0 in just 27 games. That’s just silly.
The loss of Buxton — another absence that will surely be measured in weeks, not days — is devastating to not only the Twins and their fans, but those of us who love watching the special players do special things. I watch Buxton and I can’t help but think about Eric Davis, a star I grew up watching. Davis was a rare talent, but injuries — so many cruel, cruel injuries — left him with the “what if” label after his career, instead of the “Hall of Famer” label.
It pains me to think that might be Buxton’s ultimate baseball fate. He’s only in his Age 27 season. It’s not too late. Health can be a fickle thing.
I feel Buxton’s curent pain, maybe more than I normally would have. He fractured the fifth metacarpal in his left hand; I’m currently dealing with a fractured second metacarpal in my left hand. He was hit by a 94-mph fastball in baseball, I was injured falling on my ass chasing a foul ball during a beer-league softball game.
The best I can do right now is remove the splint to type. But grip anything? Nope. Had to ask my wife to open a ziplock bag yesterday. It’s the finger that’s broken, but the whole hand aches with any pressure. Doc told me six weeks before any sort of physical activity. I’m hoping that I don’t have to return to the office; Buxton will have regular treatment with some of the best in the world. Doesn’t make a broken bone heal any quicker, though.
Here’s hoping Buxton has a speedy recovery, and he’s full strength when he comes back, that he somehow picks up right where he left off, like he did the first time he came back off the IL in 2021. My fingers are crossed (on the right hand, of course).