To be perfectly honest, there wasn’t much positive to take from Friday night’s game for the Minnesota Twins.
Jake Odorizzi pitched well, but a bullpen that had been terrific after seeing most of its familiar faces traded finally showed its weakness with five earned runs over two innings.
Odorizzi himself only allowed two runs in his seven frames — his first start pitching into the seventh this season and completing seven in more than a year — but Oliver Drake finally looked human after a strong start to his Twins career and Addison Reed’s late-season struggles continued with a pair of solo homers allowed.
The offense pushed across one run all night, and it came in the fourth inning as Eddie Rosario manufactured it almost by himself. Rosario bunted back to A’s starter Sean Manaea, whose throw sailed into right field, allowing Eddie to scamper to second.
Cleanup hitter Jorge Polanco bunted him to third, and Miguel Sano drove him home with a sacrifice fly to center to knot the game at a run apiece after an errant Odorizzi throw ultimately led to a run in the top half of the inning.
A Jonathan Lucroy single a half-inning later gave the A’s a 2-1 lead, and that was all they needed on the way to a 7-1 win.
Heck, even Joe Mauer had just one hit.
It wasn’t particularly well-struck — 73 mph with a launch angle of 4 degrees for a hit probability of just 24 percent — but like most of Mauer’s 2,086 career hits, it was well-placed and executed as Robbie Grossman was off with the 2-2 pitch, with Mauer hitting the ball right to the spot vacated by A’s shortstop Marcus Semien.
But if none of those numbers mean anything to you, the big one should — Mauer took over sole ownership of second place on the Twins’ all-time hits list from Rod Carew, with just Kirby Puckett left to conquer in his path (2,304 hits).
As Mauer reached first, his walk-up song “What You Know” by T.I. — which hearkens back to his breakout 2006 season when it was released and has been a staple for him almost exclusively since — blared over the loudspeakers while the 35-year-old almost sheepishly took a moment to take in the applause from 22,568 fans perhaps not expecting in-game fireworks as much as the postgame ones that have happened all summer long on Friday nights.
“It was a really nice moment,” manager Paul Molitor said. “You hear me say that a lot. But every once in a while, you’ve just got to pause and think. The pleasure of having him being a part of this organization, and the things he’s been able to do, that’s pretty high air there when you pass Rodney and you’re staring up at one more guy.
“So we acknowledged it on the field, fans were great, players obviously have a lot of respect. they rose to the top step and acknowledge it postgame as well. Yeah, I think there’s a lot more in there and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Can Mauer play at a high enough level for long enough to catch Puckett?
Molitor, who knows a thing or two about playing through his 30s, said he absolutely thinks so.
“I think he’s capable for sure,” Molitor said. “Joe’s, you know, he’s a private guy and I’m sure some of the things that he’s pondering — where this is going to go — I think we’re all going to be very attuned to what his desires are. I would imagine you would want to probably have some removal from the emotion of the season to see where you want to go, but I think we’re all hopeful that Joe’s going to keep playing baseball.
If there’s one thing that makes Mauer uncomfortable on the baseball field, it appears to be the limelight. He’s a “go along to get along” kind of guy who seems to prefer to blend in, which is virtually impossible when he’s won pretty much every major award an active player can — this side of a World Series ring.
“It was a nice deal,” Mauer said, almost as though it was predestined he’d understate it. “Obviously, the fans recognizing that and teammates and coaches was a special moment. I was telling the guys after you make me uncomfortable out there on the field all by myself.
“(I) definitely appreciate just the small part in the game to recognize that. That doesn’t go unnoticed by me. And obviously the guys on the other side, Lucroy and Manaea, I thought that was a nice gesture as well.”
Even Odorizzi, who by most accounts had his best outing of the season, was more interested in talking about Mauer’s accomplishments than his own. Odorizzi, who spent the first six years of his career with Tampa Bay and briefly with the Royals, has first-hand knowledge of what Mauer can do to opposing pitchers.
And while Mauer is just 3-for-13 against Odorizzi in their limited exposure, that’s merely a drop in the bucket of a career that may have Cooperstown calling in short order.
“Whatever I’m about to say about Joe doesn’t really do him justice, and I think we all know that,” Odorizzi said. “But it’s great that he did it at home in front of people and got the recognition he deserves from the hometown fans.
“Hopefully the next couple years he stays here and can surpass Kirby Puckett and just kind of cap things off,” Odorizzi added, echoing Molitor in a totally unprompted fashion just a few minutes later. “I think it’s only fitting for him. He is St. Paul’s finest for a reason. Like I said, I was happy he got to do it probably in front of a lot of friends and family.
“I faced him; I don’t really need to watch him all that much,” Odorizzi said when asked if he pays especially close attention to Mauer’s at-bats. “I know what he does well. It’s pretty special to watch. He’s just a great player who has done it consistently for a number of years.
“He probably doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves to be quite honest. It’s pretty special what he’s able to do on a daily basis, night-in/night-out, playing first, DH’ing, switching from catcher where he was arguably the best in the game. He’s had a phenomenal career that’s gonna keep going until I think he decides he’s done.”
But the aforementioned ring has eluded him, and he’d have to return after this season to pursue not only chasing Puckett — a favorite of Mauer’s growing up as a Twins fan in St. Paul — but any potential chance, however slim, at a title in the next few years.
Whether that’ll happen or not is a topic of great discussion in circles around the Twin Cities — and the typically stoic Mauer is, as expected, mum on the subject — but the Twins made no bones about whether he’d be welcomed back with open arms if he opts to ink a new deal with the club.
Molitor said that he and Mauer have a few discussions about the future — nothing terribly substantive — but he more or less stopped short of rolling out the red carpet on the idea that he’d love to have the St. Paul native back for at least another year, similar to how Odorizzi openly pined for him to return.
“I talk to Joe from time to time,” Molitor said, “and without trying to bring out more than I feel that we need to at this time. I don’t think there’s anything that’s imminent that needs to be considered here, we’re all just going to follow the timetable that the rest of the season and the offseason will bring.”
But Mauer just didn’t tip his hand on Friday night.
He readily admitted feeling like players tend to at the end of August.
“I feel like August,” he said with a smile, and a very, very subtle hint of exasperation. “I feel like it’s late August. It’s still going out there every night and competing. I enjoy that.”
He hemmed and hawed when asked if hanging around to try to pass Puckett would carry a little more added meaning based on his baseball upbringing coinciding largely with the Hall of Famer’s prime.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, obviously, he’s one of my favorites. Probably a lot of people around my age from Minnesota’s favorite. I play. I enjoy putting this uniform on every day. If that happens, that would be great, but that’s not something I’m really concentrating on.”
Well regardless of what happens — and we’re not trying to be biased here — but whether Mauer plays the final five weeks of the season or five more years, they haven’t all been easy but they’ve absolutely been a pleasure.
Twins fans have been blessed to see Mauer take the field — whether it was to see the fresh-faced catcher with the sideburns or the first baseman with smoky specks peeking through his signature buzz cut — and I hope they realize that they could be soaking in his final games over the last two upcoming homestands of the season.