Joe Mauer is back.
After an injury marred 2011, he's keeping himself in the lineup, he's a candidate for another batting title, and he's catching like a Gold Glover again.
Those truths became apparent to anyone who kept their eyes from glazing over Tuesday night, as the Twins defeated the Orioles 6-4 at Target Field after the starting pitchers combined to walk 11 batters over the first five innings.
In a 3-hour, 43-minute game, Mauer just kept doing his thing -- getting hits, getting on base, handling the Twins pitching staff. He mixed in his best defensive play of the year and added a milestone hit.
"Oh well, it's Joe again," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can flat-out hit. Bottom line, the guy can hit."
Mauer wasn't the only reason the Twins won their second game in a row over Baltimore. Their bullpen combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings, and Ben Revere's two-out, RBI single in the seventh scored the go-ahead run, but this was definitely a vintage Mauer performance.
He went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and an RBI, raising his batting average to .333. To win his fourth batting title this year, Mauer will have to catch Angels phenom Mike Trout, who had four more hits Tuesday and is batting .355.
The three hits gave Mauer 1,198 hits for his career, moving him ahead of Chuck Knoblauch (1,197) for eighth place on the Twins' all-time list.
The Twins are just happy Mauer is healthy. Injuries limited him to 82 games last year, and he's already played in 82 (out of 90) this year. He has made 40 starts at catcher, including three of five since the All-Star break.
He leads the American League with a .420 on-base percentage, and while he might never match the 28 home runs he hit in 2009 again, he's on pace for 11, which would be his most since the Twins moved to Target Field.
"I love playing here," Mauer said. "I love putting on this uniform. The most important thing is getting a win. If I get some hits, that's great."
After Twins starter Sam Deduno and Orioles starter Zach Britton were finished for the night, the score was tied 4-4 in the sixth inning when Mauer made his defensive gem.
Wilson Betemit hit a leadoff single off Jeff Gray. Ryan Flaherty tried to bunt the runner over to second base, and popped the ball toward the Twins dugout.
Mauer didn't blink. He popped out from behind the plate, ran about 40 feet, dove and made the catch.
"I was talking to [first baseman Justin] Morneau after, and he told me he wasn't going to get it," Mauer said. "I got a good jump and good read on the ball and was able to make the play."
Gardenhire went to make a pitching change and needled Mauer at the mound.
"I think it's going to be great for another commercial for Head & Shoulders," Gardenhire said. "He said he was disappointed on the mound that his helmet didn't come off because he thought that would have been better in the commercial.
"No, that was a great play. Sprawled out, it looked like he was back on the football field. Fantastic."
It turned into a dramatic inning, as Gardenhire had rookie lefthander Tyler Robertson intentionally walk J.J. Hardy to pitch to another former Twin -- Jim Thome. The at-bat lasted seven pitches, and Gardenhire never stopped pacing in the dugout until Robertson fanned Thome with one last slider.
"Thome was one of my favorite players growing up, so that was pretty exciting," Robertson said. "I was ready for the challenge and it worked out."