Of course it came with two strikes, and of course he went to the opposite field. If there was any part of Joe Mauer’s historic single to left field Friday night that wasn’t quintessentially Mauer-like, it was the fact that such a private person paused to tip his helmet to the Target Field crowd, and to the teammates and opponents applauding him.
“It was a special moment,” Mauer said of the fifth-inning standing ovation during the Twins’ 7-1 loss on Friday, in recognition of his 2,086th career hit. “I was telling the guys afterward, ‘You make me uncomfortable out there on the field all by myself.’ I definitely appreciate [it]. That doesn’t go unnoticed by me.”
It’s already impossible for Mauer to go unnoticed in Twins’ history, and he’s zeroing in on even more milestones. Only Kirby Puckett collected more hits in a Twins uniform than the St. Paul native, and with no pennant to chase this season, the question on Minnesota’s mind in September will be more about Mauer than any other topic.
To wit: Will he stick around for another ovation sometime in 2020, when he likely would finish off the 218 more hits he needs to pass Puckett?
“I don’t know,” Mauer said, sticking to his wait-’til-after-the-season posture about his future. “If that happens, that would be great, but it’s not something I’m really concentrating on.”
His manager has given it some thought, though. Mauer, after all, leads the team in on-base percentage, will finish the year as second in walks, and plays a solid first base. Paul Molitor played into his 40s, so he has no doubts about whether the 35-year-old Mauer can play beyond the end of his contract, which expires in October.
Whether he will? Different question.
“I think he’s capable [of catching Puckett], for sure,” Molitor said. “Joe’s a private guy and I’m sure some of the things that he’s pondering, where this is going to go — I think we’re all going to be very attuned to what his desires are. I would imagine you would want to probably have some removal from the emotion of the season to see where you want to go, but we’re all hopeful that Joe’s going to keep playing baseball.”
That includes Jake Odorizzi, who enjoyed his longest and perhaps strongest start of the season Friday, breaking a streak of 30 starts without recording a seventh-inning out. Odorizzi gave up only five hits over seven innings, allowed an unearned run thanks to his own throwing error and another on Jonathan Lucroy’s out-of-the-strike-zone single, and retired the final eight hitters he faced.
Oliver Drake and Addison Reed, though, allowed three homers and five runs between them, making the final score a rout.
Afterward, though, Odorizzi was most eloquent about his veteran teammate. “It’s pretty special to watch. He’s just a great player who has done it consistently for a number of years,” Odorizzi said. “He’s had a phenomenal career that’s going to keep going until he decides he’s done.”
Odorizzi said he hopes that’s a few years off. “Hopefully the next couple of years, he stays here and can surpass Kirby Puckett and kind of cap things off,” he said. “It’s only fitting — he is St. Paul’s finest for a reason.”
Mauer’s 100th hit of the season — which coincidentally ties him with Harmon Killebrew’s career totals, if you include his seasons with the Senators and Royals — came with two outs in the fifth inning, on a 2-2 slider from Oakland starter Sean Manaea, a pitch that Mauer slapped through the vacated shortstop position. “Those are two big boys, two of my favorites,” Mauer said of Carew and Killebrew. “Both as players and guys.”
But that hit was practically all the Twins could manage Friday. They scratched out an unearned run thanks to Eddie Rosario’s bunt single in the fourth, but four straight A’s relievers, including ex-teammate Fernando Rodney, held the Twins hitless for the final four innings.