Welcome Back, Joe Mauer
No team likes to lose their star player, but at the same time, no team wants to admit that any player is irreplaceable.
The Twins said that the month-long absence of all-world catcher Joe Mauer would be a blow, but that they would soldier on without him. They held up their end of the deal, going 11-11 in the month of April to remain just 1.5 games behind the division leaders.
A large part of the reason the Twins were able to tread water in April was the play of the platoon put in place to replace Mauer. Mike Redmond and Jose Morales hit a combined .301/.363/.719 in the 22 games, far exceeding expectations.
Still, the Twins missed Mauer and it was apparent in Friday's 7-5 win over the Kansas City Royals.
Mauer received a massive ovation as he stepped to the plate for the first time in 2009 and then an even larger one when he launched former Twin Sidney Ponson's 2-0 pitch into the stands for a home run in his first at bat of the season.
Mauer didn't hit his first home run last season until June 2, his 51st game of the 2008 season, so he's well ahead of that pace.
His great night didn't stop there; Mauer doubled in his next at-bat and came in on Justin Morneau's sixth home run of the season. All in all, Mauer ended his first game back 2-for-3, 2B, 3R, RBI, BB, GIDP.
He wasn't the only Twin to lock in against Ponson and the Royals' 'pen, seven Twins hitters combined for seven runs on 10 hits; four of those runs came with two outs, a hallmark of Twins Baseball over the past few seasons.
Kevin Slowey wasn't at his best, but with the better than average offensive backing he received, he netted his fourth victory of the year.
Slowey gave up eight hits in five innings with no walks, which would have been a fine line, but the hits tended to come in bunches. He frequently put multiple runners on with fewer than two outs, got the second out, but was unable to close the door.
Still, after five so-so innings from Slowey, the Twins' bullpen was stellar. Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, and Joe Nathan combined on four innings of scoreless relief. They gave up just four hits, walked none, and struck out four.
Everything seemed to go right for the Twins, Denard Span and Nick Punto stole bases, Michael Cuddyer tripled, and Carlos Gomez (finally home from being with his wife in Florida waiting as she delivered the couple's first son) doubled, helping the Twins record five extra base hits.
Firday night's win pulled the Twins within a half game of the division leading White Sox and moved them over .500 for the first time since Apr. 10.
Glen Perkins takes the mound on Saturday hoping to have more success in the Dome than he did on the road. Perkins is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA at home, and opponents are hitting just .188 off of him.
His opponent is Brian Bannister, who is 2-0 despite beginning the year in AAA. Bannister one hit the Jays in his last outing, but walked six. If the Twins can be patient at the plate, they'll stand a solid chance of having runners in scoring position when the core of their lineup comes to the plate.
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