I think Ron Gardenhire is one of the best managers in baseball. I firmly believe that he deserved the Manager of the Year Award last year, and in several other years, as well. I generally agree with many of his decisions. Today, however, I found myself in disbelief when Gardy failed to have Joe Mauer pinch hit for Drew Butera in the 8th inning.
To be sure, Drew Butera had a pretty good game. He had a fantastic bunt hit to load the bases in the 5th inning, and generally called a good game. He is also a very good defensive catcher. But a great hitter he is not. Mauer had the day off today, which I guess is fine, but in the 8th inning, against Blue Jays' righty Shawn Camp, with runners on second and third and two outs, and the Twins holding a narrow 1-run lead, there's exactly one man I want batting: Joe Mauer. And guess what, he just happens to play catcher, the spot that was due to bat! Instead, Butera had a putrid at-bat, striking out on a breaking ball about a foot off the plate. Unless he is injured, Joe Mauer needed to bat in that situation for two reasons.
First, he is clearly a significantly better hitter than Butera. Just for the record, Mauer is 1 for 3 against Shawn Camp, with 2 walks. Sure, a statistically insignificant sample size, but it does reinforce the general proposition that whenever he comes to bat, Joe Mauer has a good chance to get a hit and an even better chance to reach base safely, either of which would have been great in the late innings of a tight game.
Second, and maybe more important, with the Twins holding a lead, Joe Nathan was scheduled to pitch the 9th inning. Sure enough, the Twins held off the Blue Jays in the bottom of the 8th inning, and Nathan did throw the 9th. This was, by my calculation, Nathan's first real save opportunity since some time in October, 2009. He was clearly nervous and excited. In the end, Nathan was successful in the sense that he got the save and the Twins won. I think Nathan would have preferred to have Joe Mauer catch his first save in nearly 18 months. To be sure, Nathan and Mauer have been working as a team since 2005; the pair undoubtedly have a comfort level, and pairing Nathan with Mauer, on some level, I believe, would have alleviated at least a tiny degree of nerves Nathan must have been feeling.
In the end, the Twins won, and will not take a 3 game losing streak into the Bronx. Had Span not homered in the 9th to give the Twins a 2-run lead, and had the Blue Jays come back to win this game, Gardy would have had to come up with a pretty good reason that Mauer stayed on the bench in the 8th inning. Next time, I want our franchise player up in that situation unless he is not healthy enough to swing a bat.