Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where sometimes you have to just tip your cap. Let’s get to it:
*Plenty of people have already said what a perfect ending Sunday was for Joe Mauer if, indeed, that was the final game of his career. What struck me, in particular, was the emotional catharsis that seemed to be taking place throughout the day — and particularly in the ninth inning, when Mauer donned catcher gear one last time for one pitch.
When Mauer came out to catch the first pitch of the ninth, touching off a five-minute ovation that had Mauer fighting back tears, the full scope of what was taken away by concussions finally came into view.
We’ve tended to think of his transition to first base — brought on by concussions, with the last game he caught coming on Aug. 19, 2013 — in the context of the cold calculus of wins above replacement and other such things.
For Mauer, the emotion Sunday reflected how much losing that piece of himself meant to his identity — and that perhaps neither he nor fans had ever fully and properly grieved what that loss meant.
Someone like Mauer — who was 30 when he caught his final full game — had lived a life to that point with very few, if any, limits. Everyone who knows him swears he’s the best athlete they’ve ever met — as amazing and competitive at baseball, football or basketball as he is at ping-pong and other hand-eye games.
Suddenly, he was not just facing the erosion of skill because of concussions but also he was being told there was something he should no longer do: play catcher, the physically demanding thing he had always done, and had always done exceptionally well.
Mauer in the catcher gear one more time was a reminder of all that — and maybe a way for he and Twins fans to finally heal.
Perhaps that was a contributor to Mauer’s emotional state throughout the day, where he presented himself as unburdened — as authentic and emotionally genuine as I’ve ever seen him, particularly as the day moved into his postgame news conference.
Things just seemed to slow down for him as he talked about the day. He was suddenly without the burden of expectations. His eight-year, $184 million contract was officially done. He was emotionally free and unguarded.
Perhaps the anticipation of such things contributed to some vintage Mauer performances over the last few weeks. In his final 17 games, Mauer hit .358 with an .876 OPS.
Maybe he’ll think about how well he played in these final weeks and get the urge to play again. That’s his choice, and like he said he has no bad ones: either play or stay home with a wonderful family.
But regardless, everyone will be better off for the way Sunday played out.
*It doesn’t mean a ton in the grand scheme of things, but the Twins ended the season on a six-game winning streak to finish the year 78-84. That’s only a handful of wins away from advanced projections and Vegas over-under lines from the start of the year.
Some of it is just window dressing on disappointment, but I think the record does accurately reflect the overall theme of the season: disappointment, for sure, but not disaster. This was not the Total System Failure of 2016, when the Twins went 59-103. This was just a year when too many things went wrong — particularly the chemistry from the mix of players at the start of the year.
*Adding to the head-scratching 27-6 loss to Buffalo a week ago: Green Bay shut out that same Bills team 22-0, making rookie QB Josh Allen look exactly how everyone expected the Vikings would make him look. Chicago, by the way, sits atop the division with a 3-1 record after putting up 48 points Sunday. What if the Bears are the best team in the NFC North?