A year ago, Joe Mauer was playing hurt. Finally, on May 6, the Twins catcher went on the disabled list because of a strained left quadriceps. He didn't return until June 8. His inactivity was one reason the Twins were in first place for only one day last year.
This year, a healthy Mauer drove in the tying and go-ahead run Sunday against Detroit after the Tigers had taken a six-run lead in the first inning. He has hit safely in 14 of 15 games, hitting .404 during that time, as his average has gone up from .238 to .333.
As Mauer has surged, so have the Twins, moving two games over .500 and into first in the American League Central.
True, the season is only five weeks old, but let's face facts: Nobody in the media, including me, gave this team a chance to compete the way it has, especially after Carlos Silva and Torii Hunter left through free agency and Johan Santana was traded.
As catcher Mike Redmond explained: "Well, when you lose the guys that we lost in the offseason it's easy to say, 'Hey, these guys have got no chance.' But like I've said all along, the core group of this team is solid, and nobody ever gives up.
"You ask Adam Everett or Mike Lamb or any of these new guys, that's the one thing they'll say is, 'Hey man, you guys just keep battling, no matter what, you never give up.' That's the great thing about this team, we're going to battle."
Redmond admits there might be some rough periods in the future but added: "We're having fun, and this team, like anything, the more and more confident you get, the better you're going to play. To come in and sweep the Tigers, and today after Boof [Bonser] gives up six runs and goes out there and gives us six innings and gives us a chance to win, and we come back and win, it doesn't get any better than that."
Bonser got in big trouble Sunday, giving up six runs in the first inning, but he rebounded to pitch five shutout innings after that.
"I'll tell you, that's one of the most impressive starts of a pitcher all year," Redmond said. "He had every reason to go out there and give up and quit after giving up the six-spot in the first, but he went out there and he battled on a day when we needed somebody to eat up some innings. ... That was probably the most impressive pitching performance all season, I'd say."
Redmond -- who has played in only four games this year as Mauer has done most of the catching -- said it took time for some of the Twins' new players to get used to playing in the Metrodome. "I think what we're seeing is after a month or so of games, guys are starting to get more comfortable, and our pitching is doing a great job," he said. "I think we benefit from a lot of these teams not seeing a lot of our pitchers."
Yes, no doubt I picked the Twins to finish in fifth place, behind Kansas City. To come back as they did Sunday, trailing by six after the first inning, showed something I didn't expect.
Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi reported that the university is in the process of drawing up plans for a new baseball stadium on the site of Siebert Field, and the fundraising to build it will begin soon. He also said that he received a memo from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany saying it's likely that the Big Ten Network will have a deal in place with major cable providers so that the channel will be much more widely distributed this fall than it was at launch last year.
Maturi also pointed out that six of the Gophers football team's 11 losses in 2007 came by an average of 6.2 points per game. No other team lost that many games by such a close margin last year.
The Twins' home attendance through 17 games this year is 429,803, down slightly from the 467,151 through 17 games last year. But that figure last year included three games with the Yankees and three more with the Red Sox. The Red Sox are here for four games this weekend, and the Yankees play the first of their two three-game series at the Metrodome later this month.
Former Twins outfielder Jacque Jones went for 0-for-10 for Detroit this weekend and is hitting .165 for the season. Tigers President and General Manager Dave Dombrowski likes Jones, saying: "He's a good player, his track record shows it. ... He is off to a slow start this year, as we can all see, but we're working together to get it back and he'll produce the way he's capable."
The Gophers are ranked 13th in the country in the latest Directors Cup Division I standings, which rank a university's entire athletics program. Helping the Gophers move up were postseason appearances in women's basketball, men's and women's hockey and men's and women's gymnastics. The Gophers placed 10th nationally in wrestling, 11th in men's swimming, 13th in women's swimming and 15th in women's indoor track. Stanford is first, followed by Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. Wisconsin is eighth.
Gophers men's basketball coach Tubby Smith and his staff have an interest in Trevor Williams, a 6-11 junior from Denver Lutheran, according to Scout.com. Williams, who has scholarship offers from Washington State, Purdue and Colorado State, received a personal visit Tuesday from Gophers assistant coach Vince Taylor. Williams, who doesn't turn 17 until this summer, averaged 12.2 points and 10 rebounds per game and had 57 blocks last season. ... Guard Verdell Jones III of Champaign, Ill., whom the Gophers have been recruiting, canceled a visit to Arizona and will announce today his college choice. The Gophers could be the favorite, with Indiana and Kentucky his other choices. His father said his son decided to stay in the Midwest, the Arizona Daily Star reported Saturday.
The Gophers football team received a verbal commitment from four-star running back Hasan Lipscomb of Houston Cypress Ridge for the 2009 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. Lipscomb also had offers from Louisiana State and Nebraska. He is ranked in the top 250 nationally by Rivals.com.
Smith teamed up with former Gophers center Jim Petersen at the Chick-fil-A Bowl Alma Mater golf tournament April 29 at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga. They shot 2-over-par 74 and finished 11th, with South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier and former Green Bay Packers star receiver Sterling Sharpe winning the event at 12-under 60.
Gophers golfers Clayton Rask and Victor Almstrom were named first-team All-Big Ten. Rask was also the Minnesota representative for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.