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Twins debut new Minnesota-themed celebration in win over Royals

The Brewers have a cheesehead. The Mariners have a gold trident. The Angels have a samurai helmet, courtesy of star Shohei Ohtani. As home run celebrations popped up across the league, the Twins knew they needed one of their own — and the one they came up with is perfectly suited for a team from Minnesota.

When Byron Buxton reached the dugout after smashing a three-run home run, part of a seven-run third inning in the Twins’ 8-4 win over the Royals on Sunday afternoon, his teammates eagerly greeted him, new props in hand.

After some group brainstorming, starting pitcher Pablo López went shopping on Saturday, coming back with a fishing vest and a Paw Patrol-themed toy pole. New to Minnesota, López mentioned that he often notices fishing shows playing on Bally Sports North within the clubhouse.

“It makes sense,” López said. “10,000 lakes — there’s got to be tons of fishing at all seasons because I’ve heard of ice fishing. I’ve heard that’s a thing. Fishing definitely must be something huge in Minnesota.”

Sure is.

López deflected credit for the idea, saying a group of players, including Kyle Farmer, Ryan Jeffers and Michael A. Taylor were in on the brainstorming committee. Praise was given to clubhouse attendant Frank Hanzlik, who did some redecorating pre-game on the vest, outfitting it with Twins decals on the front and letters that read “Land of 10,000 Rakes,” on the back and Mitch Hestad of the Twins’ baseball communications staff, who suggested the slogan.

When Buxton returned from his home run trot, Farmer met him, vest in hand and helped him slip it on. As Buxton made his way down the line toward the far end of the dugout, López reeled him in with a toy fishing rod. He then handed it to Buxton, who showed it off for the camera.

“We’ve been thinking of something to do,” Buxton said. “That was definitely pretty cool. It’s something unique that makes up our team and stands for Minnesota.”

While the Twins only broke out their new home celebration one time on Sunday, they had plenty else to celebrate, capping their 10-game homestand by winning three of four against the Royals (7-22) and finishing April with a 17-12 record, atop the American League Central.

During the seven-run inning on Sunday, the Twins scored all their runs with two outs. Buxton’s home run, which traveled 453 feet to the third deck in left field, was followed by RBI hits from Nick Gordon, Willi Castro and Christian Vázquez. Gordon, an inning earlier, had dropped down a perfect safety squeeze to bring home the speedy Buxton.

That was coupled with yet another solid start by Sonny Gray, who gave up one run in six innings pitched while striking out seven. The Twins have now won all but one of the games Gray started in April, which the veteran said was his biggest takeaway from the month.

“The only thing that truly matters is when I start a game that the team wins,” Gray said. “I think, for the most part, it was a good month in that aspect of it. That’s it for me.”

Gray’s day actually raised his earned-run average from a league-leading 0.62 to a still miniscule 0.77 during a thoroughly dominant month of April. Gray struck out 41 batters in his 35 innings pitched, giving up just three earned runs in his six starts.

Three of his April starts were scoreless and in the others, he gave up just a single run. All lasted at least five innings.

“I don’t know if anyone in baseball could have had a better month than what Sonny Gray just gave us,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “ … He’s been great, all the way around. Incredible month of pitching for him.”

Everything the Twins saw on the field on Sunday, from Gray’s start to a big inning to the end of a successful homestand, left them in a celebratory mood, ready to break out their props once again.

“I think people liked it. That’s really cool to see. It’s fun,” López said. ” … It’s such a long season. To just have these inner moments, things to really enjoy, look forward to, I think it makes a long season — a good environment, good vibes.”