Posted on: February 25, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: February 26, 2012 8:21 am
Ft. Myers, Fla. -- Joe Mauer praised Jose Reyes for his great season and National League batting title, but Mauer, the three-time batting titleist, said he wouldn't sit on a lead to win a fourth title, as Reyes did.
"I don't think (personal) awards like that should take the place of playing the games,'' Mauer said. "You should play the game the right away, and let the chips fall where they may.''
Back in 2006, when Mauer was trying for his first batting title and holding a slim lead over Yankees Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano going into the final day of the regular season, in 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came to Mauer and said to him something along the lines of "What do you think?'' Gardenhire appeared to be opening the door to Mauer possibly sitting the game out.
The Twins already had wrapped up a playoff spot, but the idea of sitting out was so far from Mauer's mind he didn't even know what Gardenhire meant at first. Once explained to him, Mauer said he wanted to play. He DH'ed, went 2 for 4 and won with a .347 batting average, to .343 for Jeter and .342 for Cano. Mauer has since won second and third titles in 2008 and '09, with averages of .328 and .365 for the unprecedented three titles for a catcher. Before Mauer won even one, the last catcher to win one was Ernie Lombardi with the Reds eons ago.
Of course, Mauer would love a fourth batting title. But first he has to show he's back to being a star. To have a chance do that, he has to be heatlhy. He knows he tried to come back too soon last year, starting the season with the Twins after his winter knee surgery wasn't all healed. Some team doctor really should have stepped in, but Mauer took the blame. "You want to be in there and play the game,'' he said. "It's easy to look back on it now and I say I definitely wasn't ready. You learn from it and move on.''
Mauer said he's feeling much better now. "Night and day,'' he said.
He wouldn't guess at how many games he'll catch, though. "I'm going to be in the lineup as much as I can. When I'm in the lineup, we're a better team. And when I'm catching we're a better team,'' he said. "If it's up to me, I'd be out there for 162.''
Most of the Twins teams failed to come close to the 162-game mark last year, as disaster befell them. Mauer wound up having only three home runs, 30 RBIs and a .287 batting average. Justin Morneau never fully recovered from concussion symptoms and other ailments.
"Last year everything that could go wrong went wrong,'' Mauer said. "I don't want to say it was a fluke. We still want to get after it.''
He's thrilled to see Morneau putting in the long days without hesitation now. Morneau accidentally made a stir the day before when, responding to a hypothetical question about what would happen if he had another concussion, honestly mentioned he might not have a career under that circumstance. But Morneau said today he has remained symptom-free for more than a month and seemed pleased by how he'd held up here. "So far, so good,'' he said.
The others have noticed, too. "He's smiling and out there moving around,'' Mauer noted of Morneau.
That's a positive sign, because as Mauer and Morneau go, so go the Twins.