All year the Toronto Blue Jays have been seriously lacking in the speed department – and it’s hurt them significantly. However, the absence of something can be difficult to see, and it’s hard to understand what you’re missing until you witness it.
On Friday night the Blue Jays saw what they’ve been missing. More specifically, they saw the dynamic effect that a pair of legs with a jolt in them can have on a ballgame. Their 6-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins wasn’t exclusively attributable to the speed of rising star Byron Buxton, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more compelling individual factor.
“He’s got as much talent as anybody in the game,” John Gibbons said of the youngster. “Centre fielder killed us yesterday and killed us today … He’s talented and he can run you out of the park. You got to keep him off the bases, because there’s a good chance he’s going to steal too. I was very impressed.”
The boxscore reads a 3-for-5 game for Buxton, with a single stolen base as the only hint that he used his legs to affect the outcome. This is a game where the box score is awful misleading. It’s not being overtly dishonest, but there are some serious lies by omission.
Buxton’s first significant speed-related impact came in the third inning when he plated the game’s first run on a bunt to J.A. Happ that left the southpaw with no choice but to eat the ball.
“I kind of caught myself trying to read how far the guy on third was down the line and if anybody was going to be able to get to first to cover,” Happ said. “That little hesitation and bobble was the difference.”
Coming into the game, the 23-year-old Buxton had successfully bunted for hits on 41.9 percent of his attempts, far better than the league average of 25.5 percent. The hit brought him to eight bunt hits on the year, second in baseball to Delino DeShields Jr.
He wasn’t done there, though. Two innings later he victimized part-time third baseman Jose Bautista on yet another bunt hit to tie DeShields Jr. Once again, there was no throw.
At that point, he’d already made his mark on the game. He had two hits, an RBI, a run and a stolen base. That’s a tidy day at the office. Buxton had a little bit more business to attend to though, this time in the field.
The Gold Glove candidate had been relatively busy all night, cleaning up anything hit in his general direction, but he wasn’t asked to be brilliant until the eighth. With two men on and two out, the Blue Jays had the ability to bring the game within reach with Rob Refsnyder at the plate.
Refsynder smacked a 105.7 mph scorcher to right-centre that Baseball Savant gave a 72 percent hit probability, but Buxton shut the door. Rally over. Game, effectively, over.
Now, Buxton isn’t a superstar yet. He’s hitting just .241/.303/.374, after all – though he’s been significantly better of late. That said, for one night at Rogers Centre he showed the Blue Jays and their fans the kind of player he may become on a day-in, day-out basis.
He showed Toronto the type of performance they certainty haven’t seen from the home side this season.