As the new dad stepped to the plate in the first inning Tuesday, the mammoth Target Field scoreboard read, in letters roughly as tall as the batter himself, “Congratulations Joe and Maddie Mauer on the birth of twin daughters Maren and Emily.”
Huge message. Couldn’t miss it.
“Gee, I hope somebody took a picture,” he said with a shrug.
If they did, that’s about the only souvenir worth keeping from a 7-2 loss to the Royals, who won their seventh consecutive game. Mauer, his 6-day-olds lying across town in a hospital incubator, could have been excused for sleepwalking through the game, but it was his teammates who hit as if their minds were elsewhere. Mauer singled twice, the rest of the team three times, and the Twins fell rather meekly to 3-8 against Kansas City this year.
“Not a very fun game for us,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The blame for that rested with each team’s starting pitcher. The Royals’ Ervin Santana was in control all night, giving up four hits over seven innings, striking out a season-high eight, and mowing down the last 11 hitters he faced.
Twins righthander Mike Pelfrey, on the other hand, reverted to the nibbling, cautious form he displayed in April, turning every at-bat into a three-act play. He threw 93 pitches in only four innings, putting on at least two baserunners in each, and slowed the game to a crawl.
“When it’s 9 o’clock and you’re in the fourth inning, something’s wrong,” said Pelfrey, who had shown steady improvement throughout July. “I just didn’t have command of my pitches.”
The Royals didn’t make him pay for it in the first, second or fourth innings, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position during those innings. But Miguel Tejada slapped a two-out, 10-bounce grounder up the middle, just out of shortstop Pedro Florimon’s reach, in the third inning, scoring Kansas City’s first run.
Then Pelfrey made the night’s biggest mistake: falling behind 2-0 to third baseman Mike Moustakas. Pelfrey tried to battle back by throwing a sinker clocked at 92 miles per hour over the plate, but he got it too high. Moustakas launched it much higher, landing in the third row in the right-center seats. Moustakas later added a solo home run off Brian Duensing in the eighth inning,
“One bad pitch, and that was the game,” said Pelfrey, who owns a 9.49 ERA in three starts this year against the Royals. His ERA against everyone else: 4.71. “Really, I think these guys wore me out. Two runners on every inning, twenty-plus pitches every inning. I was tired.”
The one Twins player who didn’t look tired was the guy who spent almost four consecutive days in a hospital. Mauer, after missing six games to be with his new family, came to the plate in the first inning with Clete Thomas on second base.
“I went up there, guy in scoring position, and just told myself, ‘If I get a heater, I’m swinging,’ ” Mauer said. Sure enough, Santana started him with a 93-mph fastball, and watched the pitch laced into left-center field. “I was able to make good contact and get the run in.”
The RBI surprised even the three-time batting champion, who added an infield hit in the ninth inning to raise his 2013 average to .326. “You take one day off, and sometimes it can mess you up. I hadn’t played in a week, so I was definitely surprised,” Mauer said. “It felt like I hadn’t been out there in a while. But [I was] surprisingly good with my timing at the plate. I was pretty pleased, I guess, with that. Hopefully [I can] keep that going.”
With one change.
“All in all, it was good to get back out there,” Mauer said. “I just wish [I] had contributed to a win.”