When the Twins win at home these days, I always think the same thing as I enter the clubhouse after the game: I wonder how much the cover charge is? Anyway, after the loud dance music and fog machine are put away, here are a handful of leftovers from the Twins’ first win since Friday:
The notion would have seemed ludicrous a couple of years ago. In fact, it had never happened before. But this is how things have changed: With two outs and a runner on second base in the seventh inning Thursday, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon ordered relief pitcher David Rollins to walk Aaron Hicks in order to pitch to Joe Mauer instead.
The Mariners would rather face a three-time batting champion than a third-year player with a .224 career batting average? It probably had more to do with their recent history, Twins manager Paul Molitor said.
“It’s not so much the name on the uniform as who’s swinging the bat particularly well,” Molitor said. “I’ve seen some odd intentional walks to get to certain people when you don’t expect it.”
Rollins is a left-hander who was in only his ninth major-league game, and Hicks a switch-hitter. Mauer is left-handed, so McClendon clearly wanted the platoon advantage.
And then there is their recent history: Hicks already had three hits on Thursday, and 12 hits in his last five games, while Mauer was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Though he had a 10-game hitting streak alive, Mauer was only 5-for-25 in his last five games, a .200 average. And it’s probably relevant to note that Hicks is hitting a career-high .299, while Mauer, though owning a .316 career batting average, is hitting just .274 this year.
“They just went with percentages,” Molitor said.
Maybe so, but it sure felt like a milestone. Walking someone ahead of Mauer is more than rare — it’s historic.
It was the first time in Mauer’s 12-year career in which a team intentionally walked the batter in front of him in order to pitch to Mauer instead. Twice before, in 2010 and 2014, Mauer came up immediately after an intentional walk, but both times it was a pinch-hitter for the regularly scheduled hitter (Alexi Casilla once, Chris Parmelee the other time). Never had anyone walked a batter knowing that Mauer was due up next.
In fact, it’s normally the other way around — only Harmon Killebrew (153) and Tony Oliva (131) have been intentionally walked more than Mauer (125) in Twins’ history. Mauer’s 10 free passes lead the team this year, too; nobody else has been walked more than four times.
Anyway, Mauer got revenge for the historic snub the best way possible: He looped a sinking liner into center field, which Austin Jackson trapped, driving home Jorge Polanco with the Twins’ ninth run.
Phil Hughes thought I was being facetious when I asked him if he was surprised to come out after pitching five innings. After all, he had an 8-5 lead at that point, and had just retired the Mariners in order for the only time that night. He joked that he had simply done the minimum to get a win, and that’s all he wanted.
“If I’m out there for the fifth, I can smell a win,” he said. “I had some decent stuff there in the fifth inning so I could get the W.”
He allowed 10 hits and two home runs, increasing his AL lead in both categories. But on the bright side, he won his sixth straight game and improved to 10-6. Hughes, who also won six straight games last year, is the only Twins starter since 2010, when Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano each won eight straight, to have a streak that long.
The righthander pointed out another piece of trivia: “I got my 10th win last year on a five-and-dive performance in Colorado, too,” Hughes said. “So it’s tradition.”
Twins fans are clamoring for the front office to trade for relief pitching. Doesn’t the current bullpen take that as an insult?
Not really, Casey Fien said.
“Obviously we’re not doing our job out there. Maybe we should pitch better. Just look at the stats,” Fien said.
But the bullpen was stellar on Thursday. After Hughes gave up five runs in five innings, the bullpen — Fien, Trevor May and Glen Perkins — shut the Mariners out for four innings.
“That’s good, but we just need to make it a consistent thing,” Fien said. “It’s up and down, up and down.”
Fien pitched two innings and retired all six batters he faced. A turning point?
“I hope so,” he said. “I’ve been working with Neil and Eddie [pitching coach Neil Allen and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado] on my delivery and I think it all came together today. I got some outs.”