The moment in Minnesota Twins history might come to be known simply as "The Bunt."
The Twins had just rallied to tie the score with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday night and Joe Mauer(notes), their No. 3 hitter and $184-million superstar, stepped to the plate with runners at first and second.
Time for a big inning to stop the surging Cleveland Indians and wake the Twinkies from their doldrums, right? Well, not quite, because Mauer, the three-time AL batting champion and reigning league MVP, squared away ... and bunted. He bunted!
Mauer got the bunt down, but the result dropped so close to the plate that catcher Carlos Santana(notes) smoothly threw him out at first. On the plus side, each runner moved up 90 feet. On the down side, Mauer sacrificed himself (without being credited with a sacrifice) and gained nothing but questions.
That the next batter, Jason Kubel(notes), followed with a harmless grounder to end the inning is beside the point. One of the most feared hitters in the major leagues had neutered himself. The Indians went on to win 4-3.
Afterward, manager Ron Gardenhire put up his hands.
"I don't ever tell a hitter what to do," Gardenhire said. "He tried to drag bunt. Ask Joe about that."
No kidding they were just daring you to bunt, Joe. You're Joe freaking Mauer! For Cleveland, a bunt in that situation is preferable to home run, a double in the gap or even a single up the middle.
"It's just giving me a base hit," Mauer said. "It got off the end of the bat a little bit and I didn't get it out there far enough. Didn't execute."
Even a base on balls in that spot isn't the worst thing for the Indians; if Perez walks Mauer, at least the score's still tied and they don't have to deal with Joe Mauer's bat anymore.
Mauer, who knows more about hitting than most people, wasn't ceding any ground on his decision.
"If you factor in all the things, it sounds like a pretty good idea, I think," Mauer said. "I'm sure a lot of people don't recognize that or don't realize that. There's a lot of things that go into it and I thought that was the best way at the time."
Indians manager Manny Acta supported Mauer's tactic.
"It would have been a very good play if it rolls on the third-base line and all of a sudden they have the bases loaded with Kubel up, who's had some success against Rafi Perez before," Acta said.
No. Sorry, but you're wrong too, Manny. It might have been OK had the runners been at second and third, and a bunt single puts the Twins ahead. That kind of chicanery, while still debatable, might have been worth a shot.
Mauer does know how to bunt; though he had only tried once in the past two seasons, he came in with 19 bunt hits in 29 attempts for his career. He's a good bunter. But not there.
Even Twins announcer Tim Laudner, a former Minnesota catcher himself, thought Joe's decision was a rather wrong one (via A Fan's View):
"Ballplayers do stupid things. There's not anybody who's ever been out there that hasn't done something stupid in their career. We've all done it. If you were to ask Joe Mauer right now what kind of play that was, I would hope that he would say: 'That was a really stupid play. I'm the guy that's going to drove that run in. I'm the guy that's going to hit the ball into the gap and hit a double.'"
Mauer did admit that his relative struggles at the plate ran through his head. Mauer's batting average is about 70 points below last season's .365. His .796 OPS would be one of the lowest of his career if the season ended today.
And it might be ending for the Twins; they've lost 13 games in the standings to the White Sox since the second week of June.
"I'm not feeling the greatest at the plate right now, so that factors in," Mauer said. "But that situation, to get two guys in scoring position with Kubel up with one out, I'll take my chances, for sure."
Mauer took the Twins chances and chucked them out the window, is what he did.
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- Joe Mauer