Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
CINCINNATI -- I’m not sure how many of Joe Mauer’s 4,178 career plate appearances I’ve seen, but it’s a high percentage, and his ninth-inning battle Sunday with Aroldis Chapman stands out as one I’ll never forget.
*** I’d love to provide a list here of Mauer’s other most memorable PA’s, but my time is limited, so I know it'd be incomplete. Off the top of my head, I remember when he clinched the batting title against the White Sox on the final day of the 2006 season. I remember an epic battle with Zack Greinke late in the 2009 season, the year Mauer won his MVP award and Greinke won his Cy Young. (I’d take your suggestions below in the comment section if others come to mind.)
Anyway, the point is, Mauer vs. Chapman is not something you see every day. To my knowledge, they’d never faced each other, at any level. With Chapman, it’s not just the 102-miles per hour fastball, it’s the fact he can compliment that with a 90-mph slider. He’s lefthanded. And no, Mauer admitted, no amount of video preparation can prepare you for a moment like this.
“Not really,” Mauer said. “Even with [Reds starter] Mike Leake -- his ball was moving all over the place, and you really can’t see that on video.”
So what do you do?
“With those guys throwing so hard you just try to stay short and quick,” Mauer said. “He’s got great stuff. The one I swung through to get to 0-2 was a slider, and I could kind of see it there.”
Again, here was the pitch sequence:
1. Fastball -- 99 mph (called strike)
2. Slider -- 89 mph (swinging strike)
3. Fastball -- 102 mph (foul)
4. Slider -- 91 (ball 1)
5. Fastball -- 100 mph (foul)
6. Fastball -- 101 mph (foul)
7. Slider -- 88 mph (ball 2)
8. Slider -- 88 mph (ball 3)
9. Fastball -- 97 mph (foul)
10. Fastball -- 99 mph (in play)
That last pitch was down the middle, and Mauer drilled it off the left-field wall for a double. It was the first extra-base hit Chapman had allowed against a lefthanded batter all season. The 24-year-old from Cuba was clearly frustrated, and Josh Willingham followed with a majestic two-run homer.
Willingham said Mauer's at-bat was the key to the inning.
“Those are situations you want to be in," Mauer said. "Like I said, the guy’s got great stuff. He’s probably one of the best lefties out there, and you want to be in that situation where you need to be on base and you need to try to score a run for your team. My job there was to try to get on base, and Willingham came right after me and did his job. That was a huge win for us.”
Gardenhire called Mauer's at-bat "unbelievable."
“He just sees the ball,” Gardenhire said. “The guy [Chapman’s] filthy. He laid off some nasty sliders that were probably 90-plus miles per hour. Joe’s just a great hitter, and he can do things that other people can’t. Left on left there against that guy; you won’t see a tougher situation, not too many anyway.”
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