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08/24/10 1:44 AM ET
Twins avoid no-hitter thanks to Mauer
Catcher hits one-out knock in ninth, but Minnesota drops opener
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- In the Twins' 50-year history, the team had never had a combined no-hitter thrown against it. And on Monday night, Joe Mauer made sure that record remained intact. The Twins were on the brink of history against the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington. Starter Rich Harden had no-hit the club for 6 2/3 innings before he left the game having thrown 111 pitches. Matt Harrison finished off the seventh by retiring Jim Thome, and Darren O'Day pitched a perfect eighth to put the Twins in a situation that no offense wants to face. But on an 0-2 pitch from closer Neftali Feliz with one out in the ninth, Mauer hit a bouncing liner up the middle past a diving Elvis Andrus to keep the Twins from the infamous distinction of being no-hit in the 4-0 loss to the Rangers. "Hey ... that's baseball," Harden said. "We had Feliz, who is one of the best pitchers in the game, and we had Mauer, who is one of best hitters in the game. It was a good matchup. It's also pretty uncommon for Mauer to go 0-for. He's good. That's the way the game goes." It was actually the second time that Mauer had broken up a no-hitter in the ninth. He had delivered a one-out double off White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd on May 6, 2008 -- the last no-hit attempt against the Twins to go into the ninth inning. "We're just trying to get some runs," Mauer said of his hit off Feliz in the ninth. "We had some opportunities where Harden walked a couple guys and we just couldn't get that hit to get a couple runs across the board. But you definitely don't want to get no-hit. It's nice to get a hit up there, but we want runs." But with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth, the Twins couldn't put together a rally, as Feliz struck out Jason Kubel and got Michael Cuddyer to hit a tapper back to the mound to hand the Twins the loss in the series opener. Mauer ensured that history was not made on this day, but the way the night had unfolded made it seem like a case of déjà vu for Minnesota. It was just eight days earlier that Twins starter Kevin Slowey had a no-hitter going through seven innings against the A's. But with Slowey having thrown 106 pitches, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire chose not to send the right-hander back out for the eighth. It was, after all, Slowey's first start back after he had skipped a start due to some tendinitis in his right elbow. At the time, the sold-out crowd at Target Field booed Gardenhire's decision. And there were more boos after the Twins' combined no-hit attempt was broken up in the eighth inning, when Jon Rauch gave up a one-out double to Chad Pennington of the A's. On Monday, it was Rangers manager Ron Washington who was faced with a difficult decision regarding Harden. This was Harden's first start back following a stint on the disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder. And while Harden had not allowed a hit, he had issued a total of five walks in the contest. His pitch count had been steadily rising all night, reaching 111 after a walk to Cuddyer. So after Washington went out to the mound with two outs in the seventh and pulled Harden following a brief conversation, the crowd of 22,757 at the Ballpark in Arlington rang out in a chorus of boos. Gardenhire, who said after taking Slowey out of the no-hit attempt that he was thinking about the young pitcher's future, expressed his support for Washington's decision. "He's protecting his pitcher, too," Gardenhire said. "Everyone wants to see a no-hitter, but unless you're accountable for a guy's arm, then you'll never know what we go through as manager." Unlike the Twins, who saw their no-hit attempt ended quickly, the Rangers just kept going thanks to some other strong performances by their relievers. Five straight Twins batters were retired before Feliz issued a one-out walk to Orlando Hudson. That brought Mauer, the reigning American League MVP and three-time batting champion, to the plate. "I thought it would happen," said Rangers president Nolan Ryan of the combined no-hitter. "But when I saw who was hitting in the ninth, I was worried about Mauer. He's a good fastball hitter. ... Well, he's a good hitter period." Mauer got the hit all right, but afterward he was disappointed that the club had been unable to find a way to rally on the night when a strong performance by their own starting pitcher had been overshadowed by Texas' near feat. Making his first start since being called up from Triple-A Rochester to replace Slowey in the rotation, Nick Blackburn pitched seven strong innings while giving up just three runs. The pitcher had been sent down to Rochester in order to find his sinker, after going 7-7 with a 6.66 ERA in 20 outings (19 starts) for the Twins and losing his spot in the rotation. But on this night, he looked much more like the confident Blackburn the club had seen during his impressive month of May. "Tonight his sinker was great, but he threw the changeup really well, too," Mauer said. "He used his other pitches and it probably made his sinker better. He gave us a great performance. We just wish we could have gotten him some runs." The outcome certainly wasn't what the Twins were hoping for against the Rangers on Monday, but they did manage to save themselves from being the victims of what would have been the sixth no-hitter this season. "We put some good swings on it, but it was their night pitching," Gardenhie said. "Fortunately for us, we didn't get no-hit, because it almost happened. It was happening."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.