Regardless of if it’s the end a storied 15-year, potentially Cooperstown-bound career or just playing out the string of another forgettable Minnesota Twins season, Joe Mauer found himself in the spotlight on Tuesday night, as his fifth-inning grand slam provided part of the necessary cushion in a 10-5 win over the New York Yankees at Target Field.
The win snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Yankees for the Twins, and gave them a chance at a series win with the rubber game coming on Wednesday evening.
The grand slam was Mauer’s fifth of his career, and provided him with a second big moment down the stretch — in addition to his 2,000th career hit — in an otherwise dismal season for both the team and the player.
Mauer’s jolt — a 419-foot blast that came on a 97 mph, full-count fastball from Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle — was the fifth grand slam of his career. According to Jack Morris on the Fox Sports North postgame show, Mauer has never driven in any player twice across all of his career grand slams.
Well, besides himself, of course.
“Kahnle throws relatively hard,” manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s pretty much a fastball-changeup combination, and it looked like Joe had a pretty good feel for recognizing that changeup coming out of the hand, in terms of not expanding the zone. He finally made him get to a fastball count there and he deposited it.
“So, yeah, you’re feeling pretty positive about good contact somewhere on the field, and obviously the grand slam is a bonus.”
Mauer, in true Joe fashion, was extremely modest in his analysis of the situation.
“Just trying to get something up, up in the zone,” Mauer said of his approach facing Kahnle, a pitcher he’d faced just four times before in his career.
“Bases loaded, one out, just trying to get one in, and I got a pitch and was able to get all four. So that was good. So yeah, just trying to get something up in the zone where I could handle it and maybe get something to the outfield.”
The grand slam was part of a six-run fifth which gave the Twins a 10-1 lead, but there was still room for sweat on the unusually muggy evening. Didi Gregorius clapped back with a grand slam of his own in the next half inning, but ultimately the Twins turned to Taylor Rogers and Trevor Hildenberger, as the duo combined for three very, very tidy innings the rest of the way.
Hildenberger and Rogers gave up nary a baserunner over the final three frames, striking out two batters while throwing 29 pitches — and 22 strikes.
Tyler Duffey served as the opener for the Twins, and before handing the ball off to Kohl Stewart gave up an earned run over his two innings of work. Gary Sanchez — Monday night’s hero — hit a sac fly in the second inning, but Duffey was otherwise unscathed.
The Twins got to Yankees starter Sonny Gray in the third inning. Mauer led off the frame with a walk, and that was followed by a Jorge Polanco single — one of three hits on the night — a Logan Forsythe walk and ultimately a passed ball which allowed Mauer to race home.
Jake Cave followed with a two-run single, and the Twins led 3-1 after three innings.
After giving up seven runs and 10 walks on Monday night, the Twins returned serve to the Yankees on Tuesday, finishing with 10 runs while drawing seven walks.
Stewart’s command was scattershot for the Twins, as the rookie righty wasn’t even 50-50 as far as strikes thrown (29) over his 63 pitches. He worked out of trouble after allowing a one-out single and back-to-back walks to load the bases, as he induced the first of consecutive double plays in the fourth and fifth innings.
“I honestly just didn’t have much feel tonight, I don’t know what the hell was going on,” Stewart said after the game. “I know . …I’m not gonna get that lucky every night. But the defense made some plays behind me. I kept the ball on the ground, I think that’s what saved my ass. But I know that you can’t walk five guys like that and expect a victory.
“But defense picked me up, so gotta give them credit.”
Molitor was on the same page, though he was certainly appreciative of the batted balls Stewart kept on the ground. If there’s one thing he’s done well through six MLB appearances, it’s inducing grounders. His rate on Tuesday evening was 77.8 percent, and with the Twins this year he’s up to 59 percent.
“Kohl didn’t have the command he had in the last outing, but he still had a lot of balls on the ground, and those double plays were big,” Molitor said.
“We found a way to finally score some runs against this team, some big hits early and, of course, Joe’s moment. Nice little highlight reel before that at-bat, and he delivered there.”
But in the sixth, Stewart’s final jam sent him to the showers. He walked Andrew McCutchen to open the frame, and got Aaron Hicks on a fielder’s choice before a Miguel Andujar single and Giancarlo Stanton walk loaded the bases.
That prompted manager Molitor to bring in Trevor May to face Gregorious, who deposited the third pitch he saw — a center-cut, 95 mph fastball — into the seats in right field for a grand slam of his own to close the gap to 10-5.
Fortunately, that’s where Rogers and Hildenberger took over, and the rest was academic.
- The Yankees are 5-1 against the Twins this season.
- Mauer’s last grand slam came against Toronto’s Chris Rowley, almost exactly a year ago (Sept. 17, 2017). Per the game notes, three of Mauer’s five grand slams have come on 3-2 pitches.
- Mauer’s grand slam tied him with Tony Oliva for fourth on the Twins’ All-Time list for extra-base hits with 597.
- Mauer had his 34th multi-hit game of the year — a team-high. Cave, Polanco and Max Kepler had their 10th, 16th and 24th of the season, respectively.
- Stewart was awarded the win by the official scorer — the first of his MLB career.