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08/19/09 11:23 PM ET
Mauer putting up mind-boggling numbers
Catcher in midst of spectacular season that could be historic
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Trying to come up with words to continually describe Joe Mauer's accomplishments this season has been difficult for his teammates and coaches. After all, it's not very often that you see a stretch of baseball -- let alone a season -- like the one the Twins' catcher has been putting together. The 26-year-old entered Wednesday's contest against the Rangers, batting an American League-leading .383 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs. His 1.101 OPS ranks second in the Majors, behind only Albert Pujols (1.117) and Mauer's .653 slugging percentage is also second to Pujols' .676 mark. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Mauer is one of five American League players to have at least 25 home runs and at least a .380 batting average this late in the season. The others were Ted Williams (1941 and 1957), Joe DiMaggio (1939), Lou Gehrig (1930 and 1936) and Babe Ruth (1931). Mauer's 3-for-5 performance with two home runs and three RBIs against the Rangers on Tuesday night was the latest example of his hitting prowess this season. It was the fourth time in the past five games that Mauer had delivered three hits in a contest, and despite missing all of April, Mauer has already recorded a Major League-leading 20 three-hit games this season. "It's almost becoming normal, and that's scary at the level that he's at," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. The catcher entered Wednesday's contest in the midst of a 15-game hitting streak, which is one shy of his career high. Over that stretch, Mauer is batting .524 (33-for-63) with seven home runs, 14 runs scored and 19 RBIs, raising his season average 30 points (from .353 on Aug. 1 to .383).
Mauer went 0-for-3 with two walks on Wednesday.In a season that's been plagued by inconsistency for the Twins, Mauer has been one of the team's bright spots. "With everything we've been going through, he's been one of those guys that's been non-stop," Gardenhire said. "Everybody has had their ups and downs this year, but he's been non-stop. To sit out a month with the injuries, you just didn't know where it was going to go after that, how much you were going to play him. But he comes to the park every day wanting to play. And not just play, but play at a level that not too many people can play at." With the Twins currently on a seven-game road trip, where they're playing in the blistering heat of Texas and Kansas City, Gardenhire had planned to give Mauer a day off at some point on the trip. But when he suggested the notion to Mauer after their plane landed in Texas on Sunday night, the catcher calmly responded, "I'm good." "Gardy, he protects his players, but sometimes you have to let him know that you're good to go," Mauer said. "I want to wait before we make a decision like that. I try to be in there every day and he understands that." Gardenhire said Mauer's desire to stay in the lineup right now is an example of what he brings to the team besides just his hitting and presence behind the plate. "I think that's the leadership coming out in him," Gardenhire said. "Knowing that this baseball team is fighting to survive, he's saying, 'I'm in there.'" Mauer's numbers this season have put him in line to earn his third AL batting title, and he's also now considered to be one of the front-runners for what would be his first AL MVP award. Gardenhire admitted that with the numbers Mauer is putting up this season, the club could be witnessing history. "But we're not there yet," Gardenhire said. "He has a ways to go [still this season]. But it sure is fun getting there."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.