Joe Mauer made the second-most impressive play of the night Friday, cracking a high fastball into the visitors’ bullpen for the first walk-off home run of his 14-year major league career.
But as memorable as that moment was, he can’t top the feat of strength that Miguel Sano demonstrated. Once Mauer crossed home plate, delivering the Twins’ thrilling 4-3 victory over the Red Sox, Sano grabbed the night’s hero and hoisted him into the air.
“He was throwing me around like a rag doll,” Mauer said of his unusual view. “You’ve got to keep an eye out for him.”
Pitchers don’t always realize that they have got to keep an eye out for the 34-year-old Mauer, who might not be an MVP-caliber hitter anymore, “but every once in a while he gets a high fastball,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, “[and] he can put a charge into it.”
This charge was 415 feet in length, creating a huge roar among the announced 28,707 in Target Field, a crowd that had been subdued just minutes earlier by Boston’s two-run tying rally in the top of the ninth off Twins closer Brandon Kintzler.
“I knew I hit it about as good as I could, so if that didn’t go out, I’d be pretty upset,” Mauer said of the 96-mile-per-hour, letter-high fastball from Boston righthander Matt Barnes. “It felt good off the bat, and I was just hoping it would go.”
It did, and Mauer pumped his fist as he watched it disappear into the Red Sox bullpen.
The Twins were feeling that good all night, at least until Kintzler’s 10-save streak of success ended despite inducing a string of infield grounders.
Trying to protect a 3-1 lead, Kintzler got Mitch Moreland to hit the ball toward second base, but some confusion over their shifted infield led to a leadoff single that scooted past Miguel Sano. Then Josh Rutledge hit a ground ball into the hole at shortstop, but Jorge Polanco had no play. Jackie Bradley Jr. dribbled a grounder to second baseman Brian Dozier, and while the Twins recorded the out, both runners moved up.
“A lot of nights, three ground balls like that, the game’s over right there,” Kintzler said. “I feel like I made my pitches.”
Well, all but one. Chris Young then smashed a ground ball down the left-field line, tying the score. It prevented Phil Hughes from recording his major league-high fifth victory.
Hughes gave up only one run, on Andrew Benintendi’s homer, while pitching 6⅔ innings, his longest start since April 2016. Hughes stranded runners in scoring position five times, while the Twins scored two first-inning runs thanks to a Sano triple and added a run in the seventh on Eddie Rosario’s triple and Mauer’s RBI single.
In the bottom of the ninth, Dozier — having rolled his left ankle three innings earlier — was pulled, with Molitor saying it was too early to tell how severe the injury is. Pinch hitter Kennys Vargas grounded out for the second out, setting up the joyous celebration at home plate for the Twins’ most veteran player one batter later.
“You’re just happy for Joe,” Molitor said. “He’s obviously got quite the résumé and has done a lot of things in this game. That’s a nice one to add.”
You know what else Mauer is?
“He’s heavy,” Sano said with a grin. “Because of the excitement when I first picked him up, he wasn’t heavy. But afterwards, he got a little heavy.”