Published November 20, 2014
Joe Mauer was home again, back in Minnesota. He looked as normal as could be, crouching behind the plate and batting third for the Twins. For Mauer, though, this was no ordinary game.
Danny Valencia welcomed an admittedly nervous Mauer back with a three-run home run in the first inning Friday, and the Twins held on to beat the San Diego Padres 6-5 for their fifth straight win.
"I was running on all adrenaline," Mauer said.
He played for the first time since April 12, the leg problems finally behind him. Greeted with a standing ovation before his first at-bat, Mauer hit an RBI single, though he later grounded into a double play and left five men on base.
"That really meant a lot to me. I was trying to concentrate so hard on the at-bat and all that, but it meant a lot," Mauer said. "I've put in a lot of hard work to get back here, and to get that support, it was awesome."
The Twins have won 12 of their past 14 games.
Brian Duensing (4-6) picked up the victory with six effective if inefficient innings, and the Padres lost for the sixth time in seven games despite a 4 for 5 performance by Chase Headley. He drove in two runs, and Ryan Ludwick hit a three-run homer in the seventh.
Clayton Richard (2-9) lost his fifth straight decision, a career-long streak. He gave up five runs in the first inning.
Mauer, the three-time American League batting champion and ever the patient hitter, predictably took the first pitch he saw from Richard. He drove in the game's first run with a bouncer up the middle and scored on Michael Cuddyer's broken-bat bloop ground-rule double, before a walk by Delmon Young and the big hit by Valencia gave the Twins a 5-0 advantage.
That hit raised Mauer's batting average 22 points, a strange sight for a June night.
"When you put yourself in a big hole early, it's tough to come all the way back," Headley said.
The last-place Padres had two errors, a wild pitch and a passed ball in that ugly half-inning, but Richard recovered enough to work two batters into the sixth. Pat Neshek, the native of nearby Brooklyn Park, a few miles from Target Field, relieved Richard with two on and none out and finished the frame unscathed by retiring Mauer on a routine fly to left with the bases loaded.
Ben Revere stretched the lead to 6-1 with an RBI single in the fourth after providing a big play an inning earlier in center field. Revere lunged forward and nearly made a diving catch of Chris Denorfia's sinking liner, an effort so intense he broke his belt. He smiled as he jogged to fetch a new belt from the bat boy, and the fans cheered and laughed.
Duensing sweated through the fifth, giving up an RBI double to Headley. The left-hander finished with 106 pitches, seven hits, one walk, five strikeouts and a 6-2 lead. But after a pair of two-out singles against Alex Burnett in the seventh, Ludwick launched a first-pitch fastball into the second deck to pull the Padres within one, his first home run in a month.
Though Richard was already out of the game, this was unfamiliar support for the struggling left-hander. The Padres scored only five runs — total — in his past five starts. The former Chicago White Sox prospect, who came to the Padres in the Jake Peavy trade two years ago, has a 6.33 ERA on the road.
"I'm sure he'd like to have the at-bat to Valencia back," Padres manager Bud Black said, adding: "But he hung in there without his best stuff."
The Twins would like to have the first two months of the season back, but they've been slowly returning to full strength and quickly catching up in the division race.
"Everything's kind of coming around where we're getting things done when we need to," Duensing said. "That's what we needed all season, and hopefully we'll keep it together. Everyone in the lineup is contributing, and everyone defensively is contributing also. We've just got to keep it going."
Notes: Twins SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka made his fourth error of the season. He's played in only eight games. ... Neshek was cheered when he reached the mound. "I couldn't believe it," he said afterward. ... Said Valencia: "I feel like I'm hitting. 300, you know? It's unfortunate, because it isn't showing up. The reality is I'm hitting .216, and those lineouts are just outs."