'It's very tough to sit down and watch,' Twins center fielder says after Wild Card loss
By David Adler
NEW YORK -- With the Twins tied against the favored Yankees in the second inning of a win-or-go-home playoff game in the Bronx, Byron Buxton gave up his body. The electric center fielder made an incredible leaping catch while crashing into the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium in the American League Wild Card Game Tuesday night. But he paid the price for it.
Two innings after he robbed Todd Frazier, Buxton had to be lifted from the game, an 8-4 loss that ended Minnesota's season, due to upper-back tightness. He was replaced by Zack Granite as the Yankees came to bat in the home half of the fourth. With his exit, the Twins lost their most exciting player.
"I just tried to battle through it," Buxton said. "It was such a big game to be in, and a game I wanted to be a part of. I couldn't do it.
"It was very tough. Not to be able to go out there and compete every pitch in such a big game, it's very tough to sit down and watch."
Buxton is one of baseball's true elite outfielders -- he led the Major Leagues this season in Outs Above Average, the Statcast™ metric for outfield defense -- and Tuesday's catch was the type that's earned him his reputation. Buxton raced to the warning track and jumped to take an extra-base hit away from Frazier, colliding with the wall as he reeled the ball in. Frazier's drive, which had an exit velocity of 103.6 mph and a launch angle of 27 degrees, was given a hit probability of 89 percent by Statcast™, but the Minnesota speedster had other ideas.
"Once I picked up where the wall was and realized I was gonna take a pretty good hit, I just put all my focus onto the ball and holding onto the ball," Buxton said. "You just have to go get it. If you try to shield yourself, you're gonna be passive toward the ball and not as aggressive. I like to play this game aggressive."
Buxton felt the impact in his back as he went to the ground with the ball. At first, he was able to stay in the game. He batted in the third inning and beat out a potential inning-ending double play, reaching on a fielder's choice that allowed the Twins to tie the score at 4. He also stole second base in the inning.
But his back kept getting worse. He tried to stretch it out in the field in the third inning. He asked for Tylenol to see if that would help. The Twins sent him down to the batting cage to try to swing, and that was when Buxton knew he couldn't continue playing.
"I went to the cage and tried to swing, and a sharp pain just ran through my back," Buxton said. "And that was kind of it."
Buxton couldn't stay in the dugout to watch the full rest of the game. He watched some, but he had to go in for further treatment. Buxton said after the game that it was still a little difficult for him to breathe, and he would likely follow up with further tests on Wednesday.
"I didn't really have a choice," Twins manager Paul Molitor said about taking Buxton out. "I was told after he had the at-bat after the collision with the wall that he was locked up on his swing, and when he tried to run, even though he got to second, he just physically wasn't going to be able to go. So I didn't see him at that point. I was just told by the trainers that I need to make a change."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.