FORT MYERS, Fla. – Joe Mauer’s deep fly ball to center field in the first inning of the Twins’ 9-4 victory over Tampa Bay on Monday was “a great spring-training out,” he said after the game. “I hit the ball hard, and I don’t have anything to show for it, but it doesn’t matter because it’s spring. I’d be pretty upset if it happens in April.”
That’s because Rays center fielder Mallex Smith leaped into the fence and reached over it to rob Mauer of his first home run of the spring.
“That was a great play,” Mauer said. “That’s a great catch any time of the year.”
The three-time American League batting champion still managed to collect his first Grapefruit League RBI a few innings later, knocking a single up the middle to score Ehire Adrianza and help the Twins rally to victory.
“I’m getting closer,” Mauer said of his preparation for the season, “so that’s pretty good.”
Mauer couldn’t reach the seats, but Niko Goodrum did, blasting a a three-run, tying homer that the Tampa Bay outfield couldn’t prevent.
“I remember him as a youngster,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of the 25-year-old Goodrum, who was drafted by the Twins out of high school in 2010. “It seems like a long time. But he’s kind of emerged and put himself on the map.”
Both long drives came off a pitcher once rumored to be headed to the Twins — Jose de Leon, reportedly the Twins’ chief target in trade talks with the Dodgers for Brian Dozier. After that deal fell through, the Rays acquired the young righthander in exchange for Logan Forsythe.
Justin Haley gave up three runs, two on a Shane Peterson home run that gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead, in his first start of the spring. But six Twins relievers held the Rays to just one run, enabling the Twins to catch them and pull away. Bengie Gonzalez contributed an RBI double, Ben Paulsen singled home two runs, and Engelb Vielma singled home the final run in the eighth.