La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Postgame: One tough at-bat and understanding the contact play

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 27, 2011 - 12:29 AM

It was the ninth inning on Tuesday, and the managers in the press box were trying to figure out when Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would play the Joe Mauer card.

Mauer didn't start on Tuesday, so he was available to pinch hit.

Delmon Young singled, then pinch hitter Jim Thome doubled  to the wall in left. Pinch runner Jason Repko replaced Thome.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka was up and Mauer moved into the on-deck circle for Drew Butera. Nishi had to get on base somehow. If he makes an out, then first base is open and the Rangers just intentionally walk Mauer.

(Note: I guess Gardy could have waited until Nishi's at-bat was over to send Mauer up, but if Nishi makes an out, Mauer is going to hit anyway because Drew Butera is not going to face Neftali Feliz!!!!!)

It was up to Nishi. And he responded with a seven-pitch at-bat. Feliz hit 95-99 miles an hour during the encounter. Nishioka fouled off pitches at 95, 97 and 99 before putting a 98 mph pitch in play to short.

Elvis Andrus fielded the ball. With the infield pulled  in, he could have thrown Nishi out at first easily. But he had to stop the tying run from scoring. Gardenhire put the contact play on, so Delmon Young was off at the crack of the bat. Andrus Spun toward home but lost control of the ball and dropped it for an error. Young scored the tying run.

Nishi was on first. And the Rangers had to pitch to Mauer.

``We were going contact because of that,'' Gardenhire said. ``If Nishi doesn't get them in you'll have second and third and they are going to walk Mauer. You put a contact play on, and we're going to go home on that ground ball. We were banking on contact. That way, if they throw the ball home we have (runners on) first and third and they are still going to  have to pitch to Mauer.

``We needed Nishi to make contact. He did a hell of a job.''

Mauer followed with the game-winning hit, a double to left-center that scored Repko to make it 9-8.

Nishioka hasn't done much this season. And I'm not sure how many times he's seen 99 mile an hour fastballs before this year. But he figured out a way to produce on Tuesday - and force Texas to pitch to Mauer

I'm not sure Andrus would have gotten Young at the plate even if he had gotten off a throw.

One side note: Twins relievers entered Tuesday leading the majors with 43.2 innings thrown since the All-Star break. Carl Pavano is their last starter to pitch at least six innings. Scott Diamond is the last starter to pitch into the seventh. 

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