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Well played, Mauer – Hitters of the Night

8/25/2010

Matt Garza is the lead story on Monday because he threw a no-hitter, the first in Tampa Bay Rays history and the 5th in MLB this season. In the live-ball era -- which is since 1920 -- and including Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series, there have been 177 no-hitters.

There was something more rare and maybe more impressive on Monday. Joe Mauer had a 5-hit, 7-RBI game in the Minnesota Twins 19-1 blowout. In that same time period, his game was just the 44th time where a player had at least 5 hits and 7 RBI in a single game.

OK, so the 7-RBI qualifier sounds pretty arbitrary. Fair point, that's true. But what if you lower it to games where a player had at least 5 hits and 5 RBI and give Mauer more credit for having done it on the road? Since 1920, there have been a total of 132 games where a player on the road had at least 5 hits and 5 RBI. Even just taking this season into account, Mauer is the 3rd player to accomplish the feat on the road, joining Dustin Pedroia on June 24 and Garrett Jones on May 14. That would be fewer than the 5 no-hitters in 2010 and 177 since 1920.

So Garza's performance is still worthy of being the top news story. But with 2010 being called the "Year of the Pitcher", it's possible that Mauer's performance was a more memorable one.

HITTERS OF THE NIGHT:

The Minnesota Twins: 20-for-44 (.455), 2 HR, 7 2B, 2 3B, 19 R

Behind Joe Mauer's 5-for-5 with 7 RBI, and Danny Valencia's perfect 4-for-4 with a grand slam, the Twins handed the Kansas City Royals their worst loss in franchise history, and were one out away from the biggest shutout in their own (Minnesota) history.

Seventeen of the Twins' 20 hits, including all of Mauer's, came on fastballs, against which they hit .630 as a team on Monday. Nearly two-thirds of the fastballs they saw were over the middle or upper third of the strike zone, and they sat on those. Out of 23 total balls in play in those zones, 15 went for hits (.652), including eight of their 11 XBH. Before today, the Twins were a very average .284 on high pitches.

Falling behind was dangerous for Royals pitchers. Their first-pitch strike percentage was only 49.0, causing them to fall behind 32 of 52 batters at some point during the count. That led to a lot of fastballs (70.3% when Twins were ahead), and 9-for-14 hitting (.643, OPS 2.057) in that situation. Starter Zack Greinke managed to locate his fastball for strikes only 40% of the time on the first pitch and 50% of the time on the second pitch.

Minnesota also went 9-for-17 with runners in scoring position, a season high for the number of hits in that situation (though not the number of at-bats). All nine of those came on fastballs also.

Matt Wieters, BAL: 2-for-2, 2 HR (8), 2 BB

Wieters had his first career multi-homer game, and a career-high eight total bases, against the Blue Jays, going deep on a sixth-inning changeup and an eighth-inning fastball. That followed a four-pitch walk and a seven-pitch walk.

Wieters has been more patient of late, swinging at just 37.4% of fastballs and 47.4% of changeups in the month of July. Those numbers are down from 41.1 and 49.1 during the first three months of this season, and 46.7 and 54.8 during 2009. That's contributed to a combined batting average of .364 (8-22) against those two pitches this month, more than 100 points above his April-through-June numbers.

On Monday Wieters also saw 4.8 pitches per PA (19 total), considerably above his career average of 4.02.

Matt Joyce, TB: 1-for-4, GS (3), broke up no-hit bid in 6th

In his first AB, Joyce saw three different pitches (slider, fastball, change) before grounding out. The second time around, it was three straight fastballs. Joyce swung at two of them and struck out.

It was a nice strategy to stick with the fastball on the third AB, but it was a matter of time until Joyce got hold of one. After a first-pitch changeup missed, Joyce saw FIVE straight fastballs, all at identical speeds of 93 mph. It was the 3-2 pitch, middle/down, that went off the foul pole.

For his career, Joyce has batted only 5-for-42 (.119) in full counts, with 18 strikeouts. Only 0-2 counts, at .115, have proven worse for him-- as evidenced by his fifth-inning strikeout.

That "middle/down" sector has also been a tale of two pitches for Joyce. If he gets a ball in the strike zone, he's 17-for-34 (.500) over his career, bumping up to .520 if that pitch is a fastball. On the other hand, he's also prone to chasing pitches that are TOO low (32.6% in that zone), and hits only .071 (1-for-14) if he puts them in play.