CHICAGO - Joe Mauer knows how to catch. He last played first base nine years ago in the minors.
But his catcher's mask and mitt were packed away in the visitor's clubhouse Thursday as he took his temporary new position.
He was out of his comfort zone and didn't want to hurt the team.
"That's probably why I was the most nervous," Mauer said. "I wanted to make the plays for my teammates and try and win the ballgame."
Without his mask on, everyone at U.S. Cellular Field could see Mauer's face and read his expressions. By the end of the game, he had cracked a smile a few times as the Twins beat the White Sox 6-2 and Mauer made playing first base look easy.
"It was different," he said. "It was a lot of nerves but a lot of excitement."
He was credited with 13 putouts and two assists. He was part of all three outs in the first inning when he caught Omar Vizquel's line drive and stepped on the bag to double up Juan Pierre, then fielded Adam Dunn's grounder to end the inning.
He remained calm when Pierre's grounder in the fifth bounced off him. He picked up the ball and tagged Pierre out. Vizquel followed with a grounder to his right, and he made a falling grab and flipped to pitcher Carl Pavano, who was covering first. Then came his best play, when Danny Valencia bounced a throw from third. Mauer scooped it like he's been at first base for years.
"He's pretty incredible," Pavano said. "I'm sure Joe was a little nervous but none of us were. We know what kind of athlete he is. We knew as soon as the bell rang, all that little bit of anxiety he might have had would have went away."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said before the game that wasn't surprised to see Mauer play first.
"I said two years ago, Joe Mauer's gonna be a first baseman," Guillen said. "Nobody believed me. I said that two years ago, this kid's going to be a first baseman, the way he works ... nobody believed me when I say it."
Mauer was 3-for-5 on Thursday with two RBI, driving home the point that his bat needs to stay in the lineup. He increased his hitting streak to nine games and had his first multi-RBI game since April 5.
He was part of the Twins' 13-hit attack. White Sox righthander Phil Humber entered with an 8-4 record and 2.69 ERA. But he left a bevy of pitches over the plate against his former team, and the Twins knocked him out after 3 2/3 innings and 11 hits.
The Twins' mastery of the White Sox continued. They have won all five meetings this season, eight in a row going back to last year and 29 of the past 36 going back to May 2009. Pavano pitched seven innings and improved to 6-6.
Mauer hoped he will play first base just as well the next time he is needed there.
"I'm hoping he'll really like it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, "because we could really use him over there and get a lot more out of him as we go along.
"He's still a catcher. I think he enjoyed it. It may not always be peachy and perfect over there, but I think you saw a little bit about what he is all about, how gifted he is."