KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The concussion that wiped away the end of his 2013 season didn’t erase Joe Mauer’s memory. When he homered in the first inning Saturday, when he laced three other hits to the right side of Kauffman Stadium and collected his first four-hit night since that long-ago injury, the pleasure of such success flashed right back to him.
“It’s been a while,” Mauer said with a smile after helping to lead the Twins to a 5-3 victory over the Royals. “I’ve felt good lately, though, the last couple of weeks. I got something to show for it tonight.”
So do the Twins, who inched within 3½ games of the first-place Royals and earned themselves an opportunity to win a series at Kansas City after losing the past seven. “To take three out of four against a really good team, and to do it on the road, that [would be] big for us,” said Brian Dozier, who singled and scored on Mauer’s fifth homer of the season. “Tonight was a big win for us.”
Maybe so, but not everything was fireworks and cotton candy for the Twins. Independence Day was supposed to be a joyous day for their pitching staff, the day Ervin Santana finally joined the team and gave it pitching depth unprecedented in recent history. Instead, the Twins face a whole new set of questions.
Questions like: How bad is Ryan Pressly’s shoulder? When will the bullpen get a breather? And what’s wrong with Mike Pelfrey?
OK, let’s throw in a happy one: Should Glen Perkins change his name to Glen Perfect?
“Glen just continues to be pretty dominant in his role — just making pitches, getting ahead. Guys can’t hold up on the slider,” manager Paul Molitor said after Perkins tied Joe Nathan’s franchise record for consecutive saves by improving to 27-for-27 in a nothing-to-it ninth. “It’s just a nice combination he’s got working.”
The St. Paul combination of Perkins and Mauer worked well too, with Mauer giving the Twins a quick lead and Perkins making it stand up. Molitor hopes it’s a sign of things to come from Mauer. “He’s just been fairly steady, but I think everybody’s waiting for a little bit of a breakout,” Molitor said. “He’s been getting one here and one there. It was really good — he stayed on the lefties, he stayed on the righties.”
Mauer pounced on a first-inning pitch from Joe Blanton, smashing a 385-foot line drive for a home run. With Dozier on first, Mauer got ahead 2-0, “and I was looking for something middle-in to try to drive to the right side of the field,” said Mauer, who also singled twice and doubled. “He left it up a little bit and … I’m glad I didn’t miss it.”
The Twins might be missing Pressly for a bit; the righthander left after throwing two pitches in the seventh inning, the last a fastball clocked at 97 miles per hour. He was diagnosed with a strained shoulder or lat muscle, with further tests Sunday.
Pelfrey gave no sign that he is injured, but he gave few signs that he’s the same guy who dominated hitters for two months, either. He faced 21 batters and retired only 11, mixing in three walks with seven hits. Handed a 4-0 lead, he was removed before he could give it all back after putting the first four hitters on in the fifth inning.
“Mollie made the right decision there,” said Pelfrey, whose ERA in five starts since June 7 is 8.51 and whose season average has ballooned from 2.28 to 3.94. “I thought my stuff was way too good not to get anybody out in the fifth.”