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Notes: Mauer shines in return to lineup

Notes: Mauer shines in return to lineup

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For Joe Mauer, it was a perfect comeback.

Bases loaded, Twins down three and two outs on the board. Two long foul balls had the crowd hooting, and then, with a simple flick of the wrist, the Minnesota catcher planted a ball off the wall in left field for a game-tying, bases-clearing double.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Mauer, the defending American League batting champion, had been out of action for a week with a stress reaction in his left fibula, but seemingly hadn't missed a beat, going 1-3 with three RBIs in the 6-4 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Twins fans attending the team's last spring game got another treat they haven't seen in a while, as Nick Punto also made his comeback appearance. The third baseman, who had been out with a strained right groin, went 0-for-2 with a walk.

The combination of his returning starters and the win had manager Ron Gardenhire in good spirits as his team broke camp shortly after the game Saturday afternoon.

"Everyone prepared as good as we possibly could, and we had a good Spring Training. We'll go from there," he said. "Every year's a good learning experience. We're leaving pretty much with the team we had last year, as far as position players ... We'll just let the boys start playing, and we'll see what happens."

Ponson prepared: When you've been through 10 Major League camps, you know what to expect. On Saturday, starter Sidney Ponson was just happy that he was healthy.

The right-hander scattered 10 hits but had just three earned runs charged against him. Those came off of two sets of back-to-back doubles in the first and third innings.

"I know that you make some good pitches [and give up hits]," he said. "And then I make a bad pitch and get a pop-up. It balances out.

"I'm really looking forward to the season. I have to prove a lot of people wrong. But I'm having fun again, and baseball is fun again with all these guys around me. Everyone knows what they have to do to win ballgames, and it shows."

Ponson said he hasn't yet been told specifically when he will start next, but that it would be either next Saturday or Sunday. Gardenhire later confirmed this, saying it depended on how Johan Santana felt after his first start.

"Whatever it is, it doesn't matter to me," Ponson said. "Whenever the game starts, that's when it starts. I'm not going to be nervous. Whenever they give me the ball, I'm going to be ready."

Attendance records fall: In all, 8,029 fans attended Saturday's season finale against Pittsburgh. The number pushed the home attendance this spring to 129,544, an all-time Twins record. There were an average of 7,620 people at each of the 17 Twins home games this season, also a Twins record.

He said it: "Don't start like that. It gives a manager ulcers." --Gardenhire, on the Twins' tough start out of the gates in 2006

Up next: Minnesota's season opener at the Metrodome on Monday will be a battle of the lefties. Twins ace Johan Santana will take the mound for the 6:05 p.m. CT matchup, where he'll face Baltimore's Erik Bedard.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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