Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau trotted out of the Target Field dugout Wednesday wearing matching tall socks, a fashion statement that made the pair stand out from their teammates.
The Twins’ M&M boys — who could be split up after Morneau cleared waivers Wednesday, making him a trade candidate — combined for seven hits against Cleveland, including Mauer’s tying 10th-inning home run for his fifth hit of the day. But their heroics weren’t enough to overcome a shaky bullpen, which couldn’t protect a four-run eighth-inning lead in what became a 9-8 loss in 12 innings.
“It started off pretty well, we both got a couple hits,” Mauer said about his and Morneau’s spur-of-the-moment socks idea. “But I don’t know if that’ll be on tomorrow.”
Actually for Morneau, there’s no promise of a tomorrow in Minnesota. Now that he has cleared waivers, the first baseman can be traded at any time to any major league team, with the exception of the six clubs on his no-trade clause.
Before the game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire expressed sincere sympathy for Morneau’s situation.
“Morny’s really the one taking a beating here because he likes it here,” Gardenhire said. “Rather than answering these questions, he just likes to play baseball.”
Despite the ongoing rumors, that’s exactly what Morneau did Wednesday. His first-inning double helped the Twins score twice in the first inning. They added two more runs in the second to go up 4-0.
Given that early lead, rookie righthander Kyle Gibson started strong with three scoreless innings. In the fourth, however, he gave up two runs on Mike Aviles’ two-out single. The Indians pulled within 4-3 in the sixth to chase Gibson, who finished the day giving up three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three in 5⅓ innings.
Mauer responded in the bottom of the inning. With the bases loaded, he singled to center on a 3-0 pitch, scoring two. Mauer went 5-for-7 with four RBI, the fifth time in his career he has had five hits in a game and the first since July 26, 2010, against Kansas City.
The Twins added a run in the seventh, but given a 7-3 lead, Casey Fien couldn’t hold it. The first four Indians reached off Fien in the eighth on two singles, a fielding error by Morneau and a tying three-run homer by 42-year-old Jason Giambi.
Over 30 appearances from May 28 to Aug. 9, Fien had a 0.64 ERA, but in his past two outings he has given up five earned runs on three homers in 1⅓ innings.
“They were swinging early [in the count] and it happened really quick and then, boom, Giambi hits a wall scraper and we’re in a tie ballgame,” Gardenhire said. “Joe had a big day for us, Morny had a nice day for us, we scored enough runs. Unfortunately, for the first time in a long, long time, our bullpen couldn’t hold a lead.”
Carlos Santana had a solo shot off Glen Perkins in the top of the 10th, but Mauer extended the game with a home run off Cleveland closer Chris Perez. Ryan Pressly (3-3), the Twins’ eighth pitcher, gave up a pair of hits to start the 12th, which enabled the Indians to push the winning run across on Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly.
After matching his career-high in hits and driving in a season-high four runs, Mauer took the loss hard. Time will tell if Mauer will sustain an even tougher loss — his close friend and teammate Morneau — in the coming days.
Morneau debuted with the Twins on June 10, 2003, Mauer less than a year later. They have spent most of the past nine years playing together. Mauer clearly wants Morneau to stay.
“You kind of have to wait and react to something if something happens,” Mauer said. “Hopefully, he’s my teammate for a long time.”