So when Mauer drove another one to the gap in left-center in the eighth, he tried to put a little more oomph on it, and it was just enough.
Matthews slammed into the fence and just missed making a leaping catch, and Mauer streaked around the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park homer to lift the Minnesota Twins to a 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night.
“When I first hit it, I was hoping it would go over the fence so he wouldn’t have a chance at it,” Mauer said. “He had to go a long way for it, and I’m glad it did what it did.”
With one out in a 2-all game and runners on the corners, Mauer drove a 3-2 pitch from Scot Shields over Matthews’ head. After sprinting about 30 yards, Matthews leaped at the wall and hit hard into one of the fence posts. He crumpled to the warning track in pain and watched helplessly while Mauer raced home as the crowd of 33,868 shrieked in delight.
Left fielder Garret Anderson came over to retrieve the ball, but it was way too late. Mauer scored standing up without a throw home.
“I thought it was out,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He still almost caught it. He’s a highlight film out there.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Matthews jammed his left wrist on the play and would be evaluated on Sunday.
It was the first inside-the-park home run for a Twins player since Torii Hunter did it at Oakland on July 26, 2001. The previous major league catcher to hit an inside-the-park shot was Kelly Stinnett with Arizona in 2005, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I was afraid of falling over when I hit the bag at third,” joked Mauer, who guessed the last time he hit an inside-the-parker was in Little League on a field with no fences. “It’s a long ways around there and I haven’t done that in a while.”
Hunter and Jason Bartlett also homered for the Twins, who are trying to stay within striking distance in the AL Central race. They trail the first-place Tigers by eight games.
The Angels have gone 14 straight games without a home run, a span of 132 innings.
It was another rough outing for Shields (2-3), who gave up three runs, three hits and one walk. He managed only one out after the Angels rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the score in the eighth.
One of the best setup men in baseball, Shields failed to protect a lead on Sunday, when he allowed two runs and three hits in a 5-4 loss to Texas. He has allowed five earned runs in his last 1 2-3 innings.
“His command was not as crisp today,” Scioscia said. “This guy has been as consistent as any reliever in baseball this year, and he’s not going to be able to get it done every time out.”
His latest misstep cost the Angels a chance to extend their slim AL West lead over the hard-charging Mariners.
The Angels led Seattle by eight games just 20 games ago, but after losing five of their last six, that lead has shrunk to just one.
Chone Figgins had two hits, including an RBI triple in the eighth that cut Minnesota’s lead to 2-1 and chased Bonser.
Neshek took over and Orlando Cabrera hit a soft single to left to tie the game, just the fifth of 33 inherited runners Neshek has allowed to score this season.
But the Twins came right back in the bottom of the eighth, a rally for their second consecutive victory after a demoralizing three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers.
Bonser and Jered Weaver pitched to a virtual draw to start the game. Bonser allowed two runs and five hits in a career-best 7 2-3 innings for the Twins. Weaver gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings for the Angels.
“It’s been a little frustrating, but what are you going to do?” Weaver said. “You just have to go out there and pitch your game and hope you snap out of it.”
Minnesota’s Jason Kubel reached base in seven straight plate appearances before grounding out to the pitcher in his first at-bat in the second inning. … A rare sight: Hunter, one of the best CFs in the game, lost a ball off the bat of Anderson against the white Metrodome roof in the fourth that fell in for a double.