CHICAGO – Getting on base has always been a Joe Mauer specialty. And so is what he does once he gets there.
Mauer’s canny baserunning at a critical moment — two steps forward, stop, a step back, stop, then full speed ahead — turned a potentially rally-squelching chopper into the go-ahead run Sunday, and carried the Twins to their third consecutive victory, 5-3 over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Joe just did a nice job of reading the distance he had to play with,” manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game over there with the third baseman. … Joe has that good in-game awareness.”
The Twins, who won a road series for the first time since their season-opening weekend in Baltimore, suddenly have some big-picture awareness, too. Thanks to a three-game winning streak here, and the Indians’ three consecutive losses at Yankee Stadium, the Twins find themselves in second place in the AL Central, only two games out of first despite a 13-17 start to the season.
Smart baserunning, another sturdy start from Kyle Gibson and a dollop of clutch hitting from Eddie Rosario and Logan Morrison enabled the Twins to win on a day when they managed only four hits, and none until the seventh inning. Eduardo Escobar looped a slow curve into shallow right field, breaking up James Shields’ 6 ⅓ innings of no-hit ball — the veteran righthander retired the first 16 batters he faced before walking Ehire Adrianza in the sixth — and triggering a Twins rally that eventually produced a fourth victory in five days.
Rosario, 8-for-18 in the series with eight RBI, singled home Brian Dozier, and Morrison pulled a soft liner just inside the foul line in right field that drove home Escobar and Rosario, giving the Twins a temporary lead. Rosario also smacked a home run in the ninth, his fourth blast in six days in May.
But it was Mauer’s baserunning instincts that broke a 3-3 tie in the eighth. He drew a one-out walk off Bruce Rondon, then put so much pressure on White Sox second baseman Jose Rondon that he couldn’t handle a double-play toss from shortstop Tim Anderson, an error that also enabled Mauer to move up to third.
The White Sox, hoping for an inning-ending double play, shifted their defense to the right for lefthanded-hitting Max Kepler, with third baseman Yolmer Sanchez moving in on the grass and a couple of steps toward short. Kepler hit a soft chopper to Sanchez, and Mauer made his move.
Or actually, he didn’t make his move. The plan was for Mauer to run on contact, in order to draw a throw and prevent a double play. Instead, he took two steps and stopped.
“That ball was kind of an in-betweener and [Sanchez] had to go a little bit to his left, so I was able to take another step or two,” said Mauer, who faked back to third, further clouding Sanchez’s judgment by making it appear he would hold. “I was kind of waiting to see what he was going to do. It started to get a little later, so I knew he had to get it out. As soon as he started to throw [to first base], I just took off. I knew he had to at least get an out.”
Mauer scored without a throw, as the crowd groaned. “Joe just did a nice job of reading the distance he had to play with over there,” Molitor said. “If you’re fortunate enough to anticipate that throw, you can score.”
Said Mauer: “It’s fun. Those are little games within the games. And to be able to make a play there for the boys, to get the winning run in, is definitely good.”