Important Game #4: Joe Mauer Returns with a Bang

Here’s a little refresher on the series, before I begin:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

May 1: Joe Mauer returns from a back injury to power the Twins to victory.

He's ba-ack. Courtesy MLB.com.

When the Twins broke camp in 2009, they did so without their best player. Joe Mauer, who had been hurting for most of the off-season, had only just found an anti-inflammatory that solved the pain he felt most of the time. The Twins instead broke with Mike Redmond and Jose Morales, and for some unfathomable reason started Redmond over Morales most of the month, as Redmond wore down. However, it did lead to the (probably temporary) rise of Jose Morales. If we didn’t have Wilson Ramos in the high minors, we’d be talking a lot more about how good Jose Morales is. He’s no world-beater, but he hits for average when he gets to start. I wonder what he could net in a trade? Maybe a B prospect? Hmmm…

Okay, digression over.

So, everyone knows the story of this game. Joe, having recovered from inflammation in his sacroiliac joint, came up and blasted a massive home run. If you were at all like me, you were watching the game and stood up and cheered like he had just launched a home run in Game Seven of the world series. After my neighbors below pounded on the ceiling, my wife looked at me like I was crazy, and my dog ran barking out of the room, I realized that I may have overreacted. In hindsight, though, I think that was exactly the correct way to respond. Joe’s return to the lineup not only won that specific game, as he did go 2-3 with a walk, while scoring three runs, but it also galvanized the Twins, and began the slow, yet steady, march to the post-season.

It was also the beginning of one of the most amazing seasons any of us will have the opportunity to see play out before us. Joe was truly amazing last season – he ended with the highest batting average by a catcher in the American League, ever. He also is the first Triple-Slash Crown winner (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage). He was elected to his first MVP, almost unanimously, which he would have been if not for one idiotic writer who should lose his right to vote on all future awards.

It's the Joe-point we'll be sadly missing this year. Courtesy MLB.com.

I mean, there was a lot of good to this game in addition to Joe’s return. First, the Twins destroyed Sidney Ponson, who I still hold a grudge against from the disastrous ’07 season. Kevin Slowey was nothing special, but the relief corps stepped up in a big way. Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan both pitched perfect innings, and Matt Guerrier threw two perfect innings. This, to me, is the biggest argument that he should not be the designated closer this year, but that’s neither here nor there.

The real takeaway from Important Game #4 was Joe Mauer’s return. You can talk about or analyze everything else about the game and probably get something more meaningful than a 5-7 victory for the Twins, but the only really important thing was Joe’s return. It was perhaps the most important day of the season for that reason, although the game itself wasn’t all that important.

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