Mauer's magical bat handily beats Bucs
Slugger leads offensive eruption; Perkins solid in return
MINNEAPOLIS -- There's still plenty of baseball to be played, but talks of Joe Mauer hitting .400 are already here.After a remarkable month of May, during which Mauer hit .414 and drove in 32 runs, nothing has changed two weeks into June. That hot streak continued for Mauer on Tuesday against Pittsburgh, as the Twins catcher went 4-for-4 with a pair of runs and an RBI as Minnesota topped Pittsburgh, 8-2.
The four-hit night raised Mauer's average to .429, leaving even his manager at a loss for words."Joe Mauer, I don't even know what to say about it," Twins skipper Ron Gardenhire said. "He just keeps swinging and keeps hitting and keeps getting it done." But is hitting .400 really possible for Mauer? "We're not even at the All-Star break," Gardenhire said. "He's at .400 now. Let's enjoy the [heck] out of it. That's what I'm doing. I hope he does. I think if you really want to get serious, let's talk about .500. He's climbing closer to that than he is to .400." "I always want to go out there and do well," Mauer said. "I've been having a good stretch here. It's probably not going to last forever. But I'm going to try to hold onto it as long as I can." Regardless of how realistic the .400 benchmark may be, opponents are certainly taking note of Mauer's remarkable season. "He should be MVP," Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm said. "He's hot. He's a great hitter, and he has been his whole career. He's just a tough guy to pitch to." Mauer certainly didn't hurt his cause Tuesday. In his first three plate appearances, he saw the same result: three line-drive base hits to center field. He would come around to score in the third and fifth innings. Breaking from the base-hit routine, Mauer roped a two-out double down the right-field line in the sixth, driving in center fielder Carlos Gomez from second for the final Twins run of the night. Mauer has been battling cold-like symptoms since the team traveled to Oakland earlier this month. To pick up the double, he also had to battle a cutter from Pittsburgh reliever Jeff Karstens. "I'm not feeling too good. I just try to keep it simple," Mauer said. "Two strikes, just trying to protect the plate. He threw me a cutter inside. I just tried to hit it hard somewhere." With Mauer directly involved in three of Minnesota's eight runs, Twins starter Glen Perkins was given plenty of support as he earned his second win of the season. It was the first start for Perkins since coming off the disabled list with an inflamed nerve in his throwing elbow, and it marked his fourth quality start of the season. "He threw the ball good," Gardenhire said. "I'm sure he felt good being back out on the mound. Probably had a little jitters. Once the game got going, he got better as the game went along. Nice performance by him." Minnesota jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two frames. Brendan Harris scored on a double-play ball off the bat of Justin Morneau, and Delmon Young then singled in Michael Cuddyer in the second inning. "We scored a bunch of runs, which is always good," Perkins said. Perkins scattered seven Pittsburgh hits through six innings, with his only runs allowed coming off a two-run blast by Nyjer Morgan in the third. Morgan jumped on a 1-0 fastball and drove it deep to right field. "I kind of made one bad pitch there," Perkins said. "I didn't think he'd be sitting on a fastball in. But, clearly, he was." Morgan's home run would be the only offense of the night for Pittsburgh, although the Pirates threatened in the top of the fifth as they loaded the bases with one out. But Adam LaRoche grounded into an inning-ending double play as Perkins worked out of another tight spot. "I wanted to give him something I could jam him on and have him hit it just like that, hit a ground ball to second," Perkins said. "I was shooting for a ground ball, and I made a pitch and got him." Minnesota added on a run in the fifth when Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen lost sight of a Joe Crede fly ball against the Metrodome roof. Mauer scored from first with two outs on the mishap in center. "That's the Metrodome," Gardenhire said. "You just have to have some experience in here of staying with the ball." The Twins scored three runs in the sixth, capped by Mauer's two-out double. Gomez and Nick Punto also drove in runs in the inning. "After they tied it up at two, then we scored some runs," Perkins said. "I was able to put up some zeros. That's always good." Maholm (4-3) was hit with the loss after surrendering eight runs on 14 hits. He left in the sixth with two runners on base, both of whom eventually came around to score. Mauer's lone miscue of the night was an error in the eighth inning. Twins knuckleballer R.A. Dickey got Craig Monroe to strike out swinging, but the ball got away from Mauer, and his errant throw to Morneau at first allowed Monroe to reach safely. "I don't like doing that," Mauer said. "Instead of throwing it like I normally do, I saw that he wasn't running, so I took a little bit off. I've got to make that play."
Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.