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07/27/10 1:40 AM ET
Mauer tallies seven RBIs in rout over KC
Valencia hits grand slam for first big league home run
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY -- There have been a lot of questions so far this season about Joe Mauer's health and why the Twins catcher has not been delivering the type of offensive numbers everyone is accustomed to seeing from the three-time American League batting champion. But perhaps Monday night was the breakout game that Mauer has been searching for all season long. Mauer went 5-for-5 with a career-high seven RBIs as the Twins delivered their biggest offensive night of the season as a team, routing Zack Greinke and the Royals in a 19-1 victory in the series opener at Kauffman Stadium. It was clearly a night to remember for the Twins. They tallied season highs in extra-base hits (11) and runs and tied their season high in hits with 20. The 19 runs are the most the Twins have ever scored in a game against Kansas City, and the 18-run margin of victory is also a franchise record against these Royals. Coming off a 19-hit performance in their series finale against the Orioles on Sunday, the Twins have now combined to deliver 35 runs on 53 hits in the span of three games. And they've watched their offense start to surge despite missing some of their key components such as Justin Morneau and Orlando Hudson, who are out with injuries. "Guys get confident swinging the bat and confidence goes a long ways," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "When guys start feeling good and everybody is getting in on the action, we've got a lot of guys swinging at the same time, that's what happens. It kind of snowballs a little bit. You hope it can carry on." The Twins certainly hope that's the case for Mauer, who entered Monday's contest batting .295 on the season. It would certainly be considered a solid season for most hitters but Mauer, of course, is not most hitters. And he's acknowledged recently that he hasn't felt that great at the plate this year. That changed on Monday. The catcher hit three singles, a double and a three-run homer to give him five hits for the fourth time in his career and the second time this season, the other coming on April 24 at Kansas City. The seven RBIs also marked only the second game this season where Mauer has had three or more RBIs. "It's a funny game," Mauer said. "Tonight obviously I felt good and just tried to hold on to that feeling as long as I can. I've felt it [this season] but I haven't really been able to hold on to that feeling for a long time. Tonight was good and hopefully it's there tomorrow." But Mauer was far from the only Twin who delivered a memorable evening. Rookie third baseman Danny Valencia tallied a career-high four hits, going 4-for-4 on the night, and became the first ever player in Twins history to hit a grand slam for his first Major League home run. Valencia capped off a six-run first inning off Greinke, the Royals' ace and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, by taking a 3-1 pitch deep into the visiting bullpen in left field for his first home run of the season, including in the Minor Leagues. "What better way to start it off?" Valencia said with a big smile. "Not just hit a home run, but a grand slam, and off a guy who's an accomplished big leaguer and won the Cy Young. It was great. It was surreal." The last player in franchise history to hit a grand slam for his first homer was Camilo Pascual in 1960 with the Washington Senators. And Valencia didn't know that he was the first Twins player to accomplish the feat. "Really? That's awesome," he said. "Pretty cool." Ironically it wasn't Mauer or Valencia -- both of whom finished a triple shy of the cycle -- who was awarded the game ball, although they did earn themselves a "game beverage." That honor was bestowed upon center fielder Jason Repko, who in addition to making three tremendous catches in the outfield also got the Twins' big first inning started off Greinke with a double to left field. Repko's double was one of four consecutive hits that the Twins got against Greinke to start the game and begin the offensive onslaught as a total of five Twins players had multihit nights. The Twins tagged Greinke for a season-high eight earned runs over four innings. The Royals ace scattered eight hits, walking two and striking out seven while picking up loss No. 10 on the season. "It was bad," Greinke said of his outing. "Bad pitches. Fastball was really bad. Offspeed was OK but every fastball was hit hard." Lost in the offensive blowout was the fact that Twins starter Francisco Liriano delivered yet another gem. Liriano scattered just three hits and struck out six while holding the Royals scoreless over seven innings, lowering his ERA to 3.35 on the season. He's now 3-0 since the All-Star break, having allowed just two runs over 21 2/3 innings. But even Liriano was focused on the offense after the win. "It just made it easier for me," Liriano said of the run support. "I just went out there and threw the ball over the plate, and let the guys make some good plays for me like they did tonight. I wasn't trying to be too fine at the plate, just throw it over." Mauer's night ended about the same time as Liriano's. His strong performance raised his average to .305 on the season, although he could have had a chance to hit for the cycle in the eighth inning. There seemed to be a buzz among the 19,306 fans in attendance during that eighth inning with Mauer set to come to the plate looking for his sixth hit and perhaps a cycle if he got a triple. But Gardenhire sent Drew Butera to pinch-hit and the crowd greeted the move with displeasure. Gardenhire said he offered the opportunity for Mauer to bat that inning, but the catcher declined. Mauer has acknowledged to feeling "beat up" by little nagging injuries so far this season. And perhaps it was the knowledge of how some extra rest recently -- he started behind the plate on Monday night for just the third time in five days -- might have helped him to deliver this kind of night. "You know it definitely helps," Mauer said of the rest. "I felt pretty good tonight physically and it was good to run around the bases a little bit." Gardenhire said the plan is to keep giving Mauer rest in the second half and with three catchers now on the roster, it appears as if the club will be able to do just that. "A big catcher like he is, a guy who's on the bases a little more than most other catchers," Gardenhire said. "If we can do that, we're going to do that the best we can and hopefully get him through some of the aches and pains that catchers go through this time of year."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.