There were tributes on the scoreboard, on the diamond, and a permanent one attached to the mezzanine facade in left field. There were accolades from all over the stadium, the state and the sport.
But the most useful appreciation of Joe Mauer on Saturday might have come from his successor. A Twins first baseman lines a double over the left fielder’s head to knock in the game-winning run?
Well played, Cron.
Max Kepler and Marwin Gonzalez drove baseballs into the right-field stands, Jorge Polanco contributed a crucial two-out double, and Jake Odorizzi limited the damage to just four runs over six innings in his most difficult start in two months. And once the Twins rallied from a three-run deficit to tie the score, C.J. Cron delivered an extra-base hit that would have made a former Twins great proud. His double off the wall brought Eddie Rosario home and delivered a 5-4 victory on Joe Mauer Night at Target Field.
“It’s pretty cool,” Cron said of providing a big hit on a memorable night. “I was pretty excited.”
A packed house announced at 39,267 roared as Mauer’s No. 7 was unveiled alongside those of Twins greats such as Killebrew, Puckett and Carew, and enjoyed several taped messages of congratulations that played between every inning. Then, with Mauer exhorting them to “go get ’em tonight, guys,” the Twins extended their winning streak to three games overall, five straight over the Royals, and 11 in a row when Odorizzi is on the mound.
They just took the long way to get there.
“Joe deserved every minute of it out there,” Odorizzi said of the 45-minute pregame ceremonies. “I tried my best to stay focused on the task at hand, but thinking about how we went into today, I don’t think we were meant to lose on Joe Mauer Day.”
Odorizzi (10-2) became just the fourth Twins pitcher in the past decade to reach 10 wins before the All-Star break, but he wasn’t the dominant strike-thrower that he has been for two solid months of spectacular pitching. The righthander allowed his first home run since May 15 — two of them, in fact, to Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield — and watched his ERA grow from an AL-best 1.92 to 2.24, higher than it’s been since May 20.
“It wasn’t one of my finer games. I was just a little bit off on some locations,” Odorizzi said. “The ball was running more today, which was a little bit tougher to control. … [But if I can] keep us within striking distance, we’ll be able hopefully to come back more times than not.”
Sure enough, Kepler hit a home run to open the fourth inning, his 17th of the season, extending the Twins’ streak of Target Field games with a homer to a franchise-record 19 in a row. Gonzalez blasted a homer of his own into the right-field seats with a runner on base. And Polanco doubled to deep center to drive in the tying run.
And in the sixth, Rosario walked, Gonzalez singled off reliever Scott Barlow, and Cron doubled Rosario home with a line drive that left fielder Alex Gordon couldn’t reach.
Cron was surprised.
“Gordon is one of the best left fielders in the game, and when I hit it, I knew I didn’t get enough of it to go over the fence,” Cron said of his 46th RBI. “If it’s not going to leave the park, you assume he’s going to make that play. I saw him turn around, and I thought he might have misjudged it just a tick, and thankfully it got over his head.”
The Twins bullpen did the rest, with Trevor May, Blake Parker, Ryne Harper and Taylor Rogers all posting zeros, the last one clinched when Rogers forced a pop fly from Solar with two runners aboard, earning his eighth save.