Joe Mauer took a pitch from White Sox lefthander Aaron Bummer for a ball in the seventh inning Thursday before fouling off the next two pitches.
But everyone knows Mauer’s at-bats are just getting started with two strikes.
And just as he’s done many, many times in his career, the at-bat ended with a hit. In this case it was No. 2,000.
He bounced a single up the middle and into a milestone moment as Mauer became the 287th player to collect 2,000 hits in a career. Even better, the hit drove in two runs and put the finishing touches on a 4-0 victory over the White Sox that included seven standout innings from righthander Jose Berrios.
“Leading up to it, I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Mauer said. “But I got emotional. It was fun to see the fans, the boys up there on the top step, and the family, too.”
Mauer went 2-for-3 with three RBI. He singled in Brian Dozier in the third inning and the Twins, on cue, played Prince’s hit song “1999” over the Target Field sound system.
When he batted in the fifth, the announced crowd of 15,474 began chanting “Let’s go, Joe!” as he faced White Sox righthander Lucas Giolito. But Giolito struck him out with a curveball.
That’s when Mauer realized it was a big deal after all.
“It threw some adrenaline into my system,” he said.
Mauer got another chance in the seventh with runners on second and third. Bummer was brought in from the bullpen and, despite first base being open, pitched Mauer tough.
“When he gets to two strikes, it’s like that’s where you want him,” manager Paul Molitor said. “That’s when he seems to do a lot of his damage.”
Mauer connected on a 94-mph fastball and got it through the infield as the crowd roared. He reached first base, doffed his helmet toward fans, waved at his family and received congratulations from Chicago first baseman Jose Abreu. He was stranded there as the inning ended, so fans gave him another ovation and teammates, while on their way to their defensive positions, took turns giving him hugs.
“That was probably the most awkward I’ve felt on a baseball field,” Mauer said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
After the game, he was presented a bottle of wine autographed by his teammates.
“He doesn’t play for any other reason that he loves the game and he wants to win,” said Molitor, himself the owner of 3,319 career hits. “… Along the way, you earn the respect of who you play with and your peers and your opponents and the umpires and fans.”
While Mauer, who turns 35 next Thursday, sizzled at the plate, the 23-year-old Berrios was an unstoppable force on the mound. He tied a career high with 11 strikeouts over seven shutout innings.
Through six innings, Berrios amassed nine strikeouts with no walks. He went to a three-ball count only twice during that period. And he did it mostly with a fastball that hit 92-95 mph and a wicked curveball that flummoxed Chicago hitters all night. He fell behind 2-0 only once all night.
Berrios is 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA and has only one walk with 24 strikeouts in 20⅔ innings. Mauer, meanwhile, is batting .412 with a .545 on-base percentage and has a hit in all 10 games he’s played.
“As we have seen over the course of last season and the beginning of this year, [Mauer’s] got a lot of baseball left,” Molitor said. “He’s playing at a very high level.”