It was Joe Mauer’s latest diamond-slicing single up the middle of a career full of them. But this one meant a little more than most.
For one, it drove in a run to continue Mauer’s excellence in specialty situations. It also moved him up in the Twins record books. The 2,085th hit of his decorated career tied him with Hall of Famer Rod Carew for the second most in club history. Mauer, 35, is in that stage of his career now when he passes more impactful names in the Twins record books.
It’s hard to get more impactful than Carew, but first place on the list is Kirby Puckett with 2,304 hits. Mauer likely would have to play a couple more years to reach that one. While he indicated a desire to play in 2019 when he reported to spring training, he declined to discuss the subject when asked last week, preferring on finishing the season strong.
And finishing the season strong means trying to play the spoiler, which the Twins succeeded at Thursday when they held off the Oakland Athletics 6-4 in the first of a four-game series at Target Field. Mauer’s RBI single came during a three-run fourth inning that broke a 2-2 tie.
It would have made a winner out of rookie Kohl Stewart, if he had gotten just one more out. He threw 25 pitches in the second, 24 in the third and 22 in the fourth while battling against an Athletics team that entered Thursday with an MLB-best 42-15 record since June 16.
Stewart gave up a leadoff double to Matt Chapman, watched him advance to third on a groundout, then score when a 1-1 breaking ball to Jedd Lowrie bounced in the dirt before getting away from Mitch Garver. Stewart got two outs before Matt Olson rifled a double to right, forcing manager Paul Molitor to go to the bullpen.
That was the only drawback for the Twins. They gave a team in the heat of the pennant race a good battle, which Molitor wants to see the rest of the season. Even when rosters expand in September, the Twins will field their best teams against contenders.
“Those games are going to be important for us and obviously there’s going to be things on the line,” Molitor said before Oakland came to town. “We haven’t seen Oakland and we’re almost into September. Pretty strange. All the people that had all the teams locked in a couple months ago for the American League playoffs, it’s taken a bit of a turn, largely due to how Oakland’s played.”
The A’s jumped out to a 2-0 lead as they looked to continue their roll. Khris Davis belted his 39th home run of the season when he sent a Stewart pitch to the opposite field in right. He’s a homer away from his third consecutive 40-homer season. Olson followed with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout.
Eddie Rosario drove in Bobby Wilson in the third for the Twins’ first run of the game, stole second and scored on Jorge Polanco’s single to tie the score at 2-2.
Jake Cave and Ehire Adrianza singled in the fourth. Garver pinch-hit for Wilson, who sprained his right ankle in the top of the inning. Garver connected on a two-run double to give the Twins a 4-2 lead. That brought Mauer to the plate. With the A’s infield playing Mauer pretty much straight up, Mauer ripped a Trevor Cahill fastball up the middle and into center to score Garver and pull into a tie with Carew.
If also gave Mauer a .424 batting average with runners in scoring position, which leads the majors.