The Minnesota Twins seemed destined for a storybook win on a cold and dreary late September night.
Joe Mauer roped a single into left field with his signature inside-out swing, reaching base for the 3,073rd time his career, passing Harmon Killebrew for most in Twins history.
“Moli had a nice little thing here after [the game],” said Mauer. “You mention Harmon and you mention Kirby [Puckett] and mention Tony [Oliva] and some of the other greats, to be up there with them is very special and humbling. It kind of really didn’t hit me until the second half. It was a nice moment.”
Jorge Polanco drove him in with a double after Mauer advanced on a wild pitch, and Kohl Stewart entered the second inning as the primary pitcher and left the game after six scoreless with Minnesota up, 1-0.
Then the Detroit Tigers pounced in the eighth, scoring four runs in what became a 4-2 victory.
Asked if Stewart, who had only thrown 75 pitches, should have been left in the game, manager Paul Molitor said: “It’s a fair question, as well as he pitched, and to get us that deep in the game with a one-run lead.
“You’re trying get these guys out on positive notes, and he did really well. He’s done a nice job of adapting to the primary role of coming in, and the last few outings have been really good.”
Stewart came into the game with a 1.88 ERA in three September outings.
“We felt we had a good chance of getting those last six outs out of the pen tonight, and kind of in sync with the whole opener format,” said Molitor. “We were comfortable with where he was and where he finished, and we just thought we’d turn it over.”
“I want to keep going. I just want to throw, you know?” said Stewart. “It’s not my decision. My job is to take the ball and throw until they tell me to stop. Mollie said they were going to the bullpen there, and that’s their call.”
Trevor Hildenberger, who became the Twins de facto closer after Fernando Rodney was dealt to the Oakland A’s on Aug. 9, gave up four earned runs while recording only one out in the eighth, and was tagged with the loss.
“We talked to the guys about doing some things differently this week, giving some people different opportunities to get outs in different slots,” said Molitor, referencing his decision to put Hildenberger in the eighth inning after he a wild pitch he threw in Oakland allowed the A’s a walk-off win. “It’s just one of those things.”
Years from now the four-run eighth inning will most likely be an afterthought. Mauer’s record game may have ended in a loss, but it came in front of 23,849 fans that sat in 50-degree weather in what could be the final week of his storied Twins career.
“Anything Joe does, I’m really proud for him and happy for him. Wonderful baseball player, one of the best I’ve been around,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, Mauer’s first manager.
“That kind of record and that kind of name, that’s putting yourself up there with one of the best players I’ve ever had the chance to see and meet in Harmon.”
“This one’s certainly very significant when you think about the people that have put this uniform on,” echoed Molitor. “Harmon, the man he was, the player he was and to climb that last rung on the latter, puts him in an exclusive category.”
Mauer kept the ball. He let the Twins keep the base. For the fans in attendance, he gave them a reason to sit in the cold and watch a losing Twins team late in September.