Cynics not withstanding, Mauer’s rise lifts Twins

John Gilbert

Joe Mauer's swing remains a thing of beauty, even through mesh, when he hits a game-breaking grand slam as he did on this pitch Sunday. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Joe Mauer's swing remains a thing of beauty, even through mesh, when he hits a game-breaking grand slam as he did on this pitch Sunday. Photo credit: John Gilbert

When you spend a lot of time at sports events, using up many of your working hours with a working press pass, you might find less urgency to attend games on the side. So we hadn’t made a family trip to a Twins game all season.

 Last week, my wife Joan went to work on the project of getting us tickets for last Sunday’s homestand finale against Toronto. I really liked the Blue Jays a couple of years ago, and they still have some great players, so that would be wonderful, eh? There are no such things as press tickets for the families of media types, which is fine.

But Joan knew I had specific demands, such as taking photos with a wonderful 600-millimeter lens, and therefore insisting that there be no mesh screen between our seats and home plate. Then she splurged. We were running the risk of missing a great Vikings game, but what the heck? Then I learned Sam Bradshaw was out of the game with a swollen knee, and I thought we might be OK.

Toronto's Josh Donaldson hit two home runs, and five in three days, including on this pitch in the first inning, igniting a 5-0 Jays lead. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Toronto's Josh Donaldson hit two home runs, and five in three days, including on this pitch in the first inning, igniting a 5-0 Jays lead. Photo credit: John Gilbert

We met our older son, Jack, and the three of us headed downtown Minneapolis, and felt pretty good about finding a $10 parking lot only about four blocks away. She had paid an exorbitant $65 apiece for the tickets and told me to never mind; it was a once a year thing. The seats were perfectly located, along the third base line and up nine rows from the visiting dugout. But then it was Joan’s turn to be upset -- she had been promised seats out far enough to be beyond the protective mesh screen, but there is a second lower screen which was almost out of our line of sight, except that it covered home plate and the third base line.

I told Joan I wanted the third base line because I wanted to focus in on Joe Mauer, a left-handed hitter who is the subject of considerable abuse from press box cynics who think he should hit 30 home runs, and they can’t tolerate a line-drive singles and doubles hitter. While the Twins have had an astonishing season with a whole lot of unexpected guys chipping in and hitting over .250, but these cynics haven’t pointed out that Mauer is hitting about .400 since August 10, and he has raised his average to .308 for the season.

I love Mauer’s swing, wishing only that he would gather himself up and swing at more first pitch offerings. I wanted to take some photos of him swinging, and the third-base side gives me a head-on angle.

It was a game for the ages, with not only a little, but a lot of everything. I mentioned to my family that the Blue Jays are dangerous, especially Josh Donaldson, who can sock the ball out of the park any at-bat. Kyle Gibson gave up 4 runs in the first, with Donaldson, pounding his 29th home run into the third deck in left-center. It became 5-0 in the second, as Donaldson hit his 30th of the season and second in the first two innings. To put it in perspective, Donaldson has hit 21 home runs since the All-Star break, most in the Majors. Beyond that, he had also hit two home runs the day before, and one the day before that -- five home runs in three days at Target Field.

Down 5-0, it looked like a long and frustrating afternoon, although it was mid-60s warm and sunny. Then the Twins came back, scoring seven runs in the last of the second to go ahead 7-6. Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton his home runs to start the rally, and with the bases loaded, Mauer strafed a shot that almost dismembered second baseman Ryan Goins and drove in two runs. Now, if Kirby Puckett, or Kent Hrbek, or Torii Hunter, or Rod Carew, or Harmon Killebrew had stroked that shot, it would have been a hit because the official scorer knew that it would have taken an outstanding play to get him out. But Mauer? Give the guy an error, to avoid getting heckled by the cynics in the press box; no runs batted in. Part of the conspiracy theory.

Mauer again, a double this time, 3-for-5 with 5 RBIs, now up to .308. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Mauer again, a double this time, 3-for-5 with 5 RBIs, now up to .308. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Up 7-5, the Twins held on until the fifth, when the Twins pushed in another run and loaded the bases. With 27,572 fans cheering wildly -- no Mauer cynics there -- Joe Mauer stood in there and hammered a high drive that cleared the right field fence, and the patio out there, and it may still be bouncing somewhere. A grand slam, and the Twins went on to win 13-7.

Mauer, who earlier had hit a fly ball that was caught up against the wall in left-center, came up later and smacked a double. So he was 3-for-5 with 5 runs batted in. We won’t even bother suggesting with a more lenient scorer, he’d have been 4-for-5 with 7 RBIs.

In the field, where Mauer has further defied the on-record cynics who said he’d never become an outstanding first baseman by becoming an outstandng first baseman, he made a couple of great stabs of hard grounders, and he made a couple near-miraculous short-hop scoops of bad throws to turn errors into outs.

One one play, something I’ve never seen before. Eduardo Escobar, who is playing such spirited third base that nobody even remembers Miguel Sano, made a lunging play to the hole and came up throwing as hard as possible. But it was a lousy throw, and only a superb scoop by Mauer made the play for the out. It was such a great play that Escobar, following through on his throw, ran all the way across the infield to fist-bump Mauer in congratulations. I don’t know how many fans saw it, but it was a neat gesture, and it not only shows how close-knit this Twins team is, it further indicates that the press box cynics are cloistered in the press box.

Great vantage point, if you don't mind watching through a mesh fence for $65. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Great vantage point, if you don't mind watching through a mesh fence for $65. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The rest of us don’t care how much he’s making, how many days he gets off, and how often he hits singles and doubles instead of home runs. As long as he gets a lot of singles, and he keeps moving upward. At .308, after getting two hits in the loss to the Yankees Tuesday night, he’s sixth in the American League.

No way to know if the Twins can hang in there and fight off the Los Angeles Angels to claim that second Wild Card spot behind the Yankees. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. We all had a fantastic day of entertainment, and a ball game where everything imaginable happened, with the Twins giving up a 5-0 lead and then homering their way to a 13-7 victory.

This is the most fun Twins team to watch in two decades. And they’re not done yet.