Of all the surprises in the Twins’ season, the biggest might be that Joe Mauer — one of the greatest hitters in the history of the franchise — is batting only .253 after hitting a game-tying home run in the eighth inning in the Twins’ 2-1 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday. It was only his third home run of the season.

Yes, the same player who was named American League MVP in 2009, won AL batting titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009 and also hit over .300 in 2010, 2012 and 2013, is third in batting average on the Twins, behind Brian Dozier and Torii Hunter (both at .260), among players with at least 200 at-bats.

With that past reputation, Mauer was asked if there’s any kind of world where he is a .253 hitter.

“No, it’s not where I want to be, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve been frustrated, but it definitely helps when you win ballgames.”

Mauer started the year well, hitting .318 with a .392 on-base percentage in April, but in May he hit just .240 with a .278 OBP. In June, his statistics have really dropped — through 17 games he is hitting .179 with a .270 OBP — but he says he has felt good at the plate and often has been making solid contact.

“I haven’t really felt that bad the last couple weeks, just haven’t had a lot to show for it,” Mauer said. “We were joking around in the dugout after the home run that ‘Nobody can catch the ball out there,’ so hopefully I can do that a couple more times.”

He said that when he feels comfortable at the plate but hits still aren’t falling in, the temptation is to try and change his approach too much.

“You know kind of how you feel at the plate. You can hit four balls on the nose and go 0-for-4,” he said. “You try to stick with it and stay positive and sometimes when you get in those situations, you might overadjust and I’ve caught myself doing that over the last couple weeks. You just keep working and stay positive.”

Still contributing

Even though Mauer’s batting average has dipped, he is tied for the team lead with Hunter with 36 RBI and is fourth in runs scored with 25. He has hit a remarkable .410 with runners in scoring position and has a .513 on-base percentage in those situations. Perhaps none of his hits this season has been as big as the game-tying homer he hit Thursday.

“[I was] just trying to have a good at-bat and looking for something out over the plate,” he said. “I saw [Cardinals reliever Kevin] Siegrist a couple nights ago, so that was good to see a couple pitches. He’s a tough lefty and I’m glad I was able to get that pitch and put a good swing on it.

“I try to make them count when I do hit them. It was nice and exciting for me to come up with that in that time of the game and tie the game and give us a chance to win. That was good.”

All three of Mauer’s homers this season have either tied the score or given the Twins the lead.

Mauer also said that he’s still transitioning to being a first baseman after being the Twins’ catcher for 10 seasons.

“I mean, it’s been a process, and [I’m] still trying to learn and be the best first baseman I can be,” he said. “I feel like that’s where I am right now.”

While Mauer wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Twins’ victory Thursday was a turning point in the season, they had gone only 4-9 over their past 13 games and hadn’t won back-to-back games since defeating the Red Sox on June 4.

“It helps,” he said. “I don’t think we needed it, necessarily, but it was nice to see Kennys [Vargas] come up there at the end and come up big for us. He’s been grinding it out, and it’s good for him to finish the game on a walk-off. It’s always fun to get out there and jump around.”

Mauer was asked what hitting a walk-off home run feels like as a player.

“Well it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t even know if I’ve had one in the big leagues. I’ve had a couple throughout my minor league career but I don’t know. It’s an unbelievable feeling. To round the bases and come back and see how excited your teammates are is pretty special.”

Mauer also said that while he has struggled this season, the success of the team has been extremely rewarding, and winning two games against the Cardinals was a positive turn after a rough start in June for the Twins.

Still, Mauer hopes he’ll be contributing more as the season goes along.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” he said. “I just kind of haven’t had a whole lot to show for it, but hopefully I can turn it around.”

Finally announced

The headline in my column of June 8, 2014, read: “Expect U.S. Bank to get stadium naming rights.” This information, a year before the official announcement, came from a good source involved with the team. I was told at the time that the delay in the announcement was because it was taking a long time to draw up the contract.

Richard K. Davis, CEO of U.S. Bancorp, and Marc and Zygi Wilf, owners of the Vikings, struck up a great friendship shortly after the Wilf family bought the team in 2005. While there were other bidders for the naming rights, U.S. Bank was going to get the rights if it met the asking price. While speculation is the Vikings got $220 million over 20 years, it’s hard to believe such a figure when the Colts got only $120 million for 20 years in 2006.


• Vargas stopped an 0-for-15 slump with a single in the fifth inning Thursday before he hit the game-winning home run, his first career walk-off homer. Vargas, who was sent down to Class AAA Rochester on May 17 when he was batting .248, is now hitting .333 (14-for-42) with three homers and five RBI in his past 13 home games with the Twins. … The Cardinals, a team most media rank as the best in baseball, were swept in the two-game series for the first time this season.

• The Twins were stellar in May, posting a 20-7 record, and they were 12-5 through their first 17 games in that month. But in 17 games in June they are only 6-11. But the pitching staff has been excellent. In the first 17 games in May, it posted a 4.10 ERA compared to a 3.57 ERA so far in June. The hitters are a different story. The Twins hit .280 with 93 runs scored and 86 RBI in their first 17 games in May, compared to .214 with 47 runs scored and 45 RBI so far in June.

• John Clayton, writing for ESPN.com, said he believes former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, now with the Raiders, is the eighth-best backup in the NFL, placing him one spot behind Vikings backup Shaun Hill and three spots behind former Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson, who re-signed with the Seahawks. “Ponder makes the list because he’s averaged 23.5 points per game during his starts. He falls behind … because he had the benefits of having Adrian Peterson in the Vikings backfield.”


Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com