It is advisable for a sports writer to pick his target judiciously and back into the question when bringing a negative to the attention of a ballplayer.
This had to be the middle of May in 1998. The target was Paul Molitor, one of the most-composed ballplayers (and now managers) you could hope to deal with. So, I went directly to the issue with a statement that was roughly this:
“Paul, you haven’t been driving in many runs … three in over three weeks.’’
Molitor looked at me, smiled and said: “I was wondering when somebody was going to ask me about that.’’
Runs batted in are a meaningless number to baseball’s nuevo statistical crowd, but in 1998, they meant something to Molitor. Even approaching 42 and in his final season, he saw the value in knocking in a run once in a while.
I went to Baseball Reference (where else?) to find the actual details, and from April 18 to May 14 of the ’98 season, Molitor had three RBI in 22 games..
I know this will come as a shock to Patrick+ readers, but Molitor going through an RBI dearth in his final season is not the point of the anecdote. The point was Molitor’s response when it was mentioned.
I remembered Mollie’s answer when hearing Kris Atteberry on the Twins’ postgame radio show on Sunday going through some footnotes that included this:
Joe Mauer had a walk and a single in five plate appearances and he’s now reached base in 33 consecutive games.
This came as a news bulletin for me. I could imagine a member of the Twins’ traveling media asking Mauer about this healthy streak of reaching base and him saying:
“I was wondering when someone was going to ask me about that.’’
Mauer went 0 for 4 in four plate appearances as Toronto completed a four-game sweep of the Twins in Rogers Center on Aug. 6. The Twins were 54-54 after that loss. There was only a three-game gap to the second wild-card spot in the American League, but staying at .500 in the final third of the season wasn’t going to get it done for the Twins.
When you looked ahead, to a 25-game stretch with 19 road games from Aug. 17 to Sept. 13, a reasonable observer would have put the playoff chance for the Twins at what … 10 percent?
The Twins have played 34 games since being swept in Toronto. The Twins are 20-14 in that stretch and one game out of the second wild card. Six games over .500 – 74-68 – makes the idea of a playoff berth much more realistic.
What do we see now … a 30 percent shot?
The Twins went 15-10 (including 11-8 on the road) in the 25-game span that was supposed to kill all hope. I have to admit: I’m MORE surprised than the next guy.
Mauer started and reached base in 33 of those 34 games. He batted .280, had an on-base percentage of .367, scored 15 runs and drove in 14. With two home runs, that put his runs produced for the 34 games at 27.
These are modest numbers, other than on-base. There's no attempt to suggest Mauer has been the catalyst for the Twins’ success over the past 5 ½ weeks.
What I’m saying is that by being a tough out, by getting on base 53 times in the 33 games he has played since Aug. 7, Mauer has been a contributor to an admirable stretch of baseball for the Twins.
Why dwell on it? Because of this:
The most-dramatic moment among the 11 road victories in the Twins’ rugged stretch came last Wednesday night in Kansas City. The winning run was provided by Miguel Sano’s mammoth, pinch-hit home run in the 12th inning.
One of the first Twitter responses I saw was someone taking a shot at Mauer, asking if Sano already had contributed more to the Twins in his two months than Mauer had in any season in his career.
OK, one of the strongest young men to come into the big leagues in recent history hits a satellite shot, and you can’t resist the urge to take a shot at Mauer?
Joe isn’t what he was, and he’s now what he is, but he was the MVP in 2009, and I don’t think young Sano will be getting any meaningful votes in that category for 2015.
So, the answer to the inevitable Mauer rip was:"No. Sano has not contributed more to the Twins this season than Mauer has at any time in his career.''
Mauer has started in 135 of the Twins’ 142 games in 2015. He has been used as a pinch-hitter in three others for 138 games played. He is going to play in the mid-150s for games.
And while it’s unlikely Mauer will hit a moon shot to win a big game in the 12th, it can be assumed he’ll keep getting on base and thus contributing to the pursuit of a second wild card that seems to have been created for teams exactly like this: