A single to left field. Ball taken out of play. Standing ovation. Tip of the helmet.
The final week of Joe Mauer’s season has begun, and it started with a not-so-random act of Mauerness — his trademark opposite-field single, off Tigers righthander Spencer Turnbull to begin the bottom of the first inning Tuesday night.
While Mauer has routinely served the ball that way throughout his 15-year career, this particular one was more impactful. It was the 3,073rd time Mauer has reached base, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew for the most in Twins history.
The ball was retrieved and tossed toward the Twins dugout for collection. The scoreboard noted the achievement, and fans from the announced crowd of 23,849 at Target Field rose for a standing ovation as Mauer tipped his helmet to all sides of the ballpark.
“That was good, to get on base there in the first inning,” said Mauer, who has reached base 3,075 times in all — he was 2-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored in the Twins’ 4-2 loss to Detroit. “That was a nice moment there, for sure.”
Tigers catcher James McCann, in a classy move, stood between home plate and the pitcher’s mound to hold up the game so Mauer could have a moment to acknowledge fans.
“That’s something he doesn’t have to do,” Mauer said, “but recognizing that situation, that’s a class act by a class guy. I’ve gotten to know him over the last couple of years. He’s a competitor and a good guy too.”
And that’s how Mauer’s final week of the season began. He has stated his desire to mull over retirement in the weeks after the season, raising the possibility these are the final games of his career. It likely won’t be the only time he tips his cap this week.
And after Mauer has stopped at least three times during home games this month to salute the crowd, Twins manager Paul Molitor hopes the first baseman, who is one extra-base hit away from 600 for his career, does it several more times this week.
“It’s going to be fun to watch him play,” Molitor said before the game. “I’m hoping there’s a little sense of acknowledgment each and every time he steps on that field, from however many fans come out to games this week.”
Mauer, 35, has not made up his mind on retirement, but some Twins fans might not take any chances and watch the three-time AL batting champion play one more time. His age, the fact he suffered another concussion during the season and the fact that his third child is due around Thanksgiving all will weigh in his decision.
“Yeah, it’s a little strange knowing that with everything kind of hanging in the balance, that we’re going to watch Joe play this week,” Molitor said.
The clubhouse was closed a little longer than normal following the game as the team celebrated Mauer’s milestone. Molitor spoke, and Mauer was given both the ball he hit for the single and the first base bag.
“I’ll have the team keep the base, and I’ll take the ball,” Mauer said. “It’s kind of fun to get some of these mementos from these days.”
But Molitor’s words will stick the most with Mauer, who now tops a list that includes Killebrew (3,072), Kirby Puckett, (2,810) and Rod Carew (2,718). Molitor touched on that during his speech.
“Mollie had a nice little thing here after,” Mauer said. “You mention Harmon and you mention Kirby and mention [Rod] 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.”