NEW YORK -- Shortstop Nick Punto has found himself featured in numerous Web gems over the years, so he knows a little something about spectacular defensive plays. So how does he rank Joe Mauer's running dive and subsequent collision with Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner just inches from home plate in the ninth inning of Sunday's game? "It was impressive in a lot of ways," Punto said. "Not only for the athleticism, but the knowledge that it was the winning run, and the guy at second base is a fast runner. He sold the pump-fake to first like the quarterback he was, and then to sell out, sprinting all the way to get back to home plate and diving like he did? Wow."
Punto wasn't the only one who recalled Mauer's days as a high school All-America quarterback when describing the play. Mauer received some text messages from some of the guys who he played football against in high school, teasing him about whether the play reminded Mauer of his days as a quarterback. One was from Arizona Cardinals receiver and Minnesota native Larry Fitzgerald Jr. The catcher was sporting a bandage on his left arm on Monday, a result of the dive, and he even joked about the toll his "dive for the pylon" play took on him. But after Sunday's loss, the catcher, who was recruited to play at Florida State before being selected by the Twins as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, seemed to shake off the spectacular nature of his play. Mauer said that he just reacted to the situation, knowing that he had one of the fastest runners in the game on second base, and was just trying to do what he could to keep that run from scoring. But his teammates, well, they knew to appreciate the type of athleticism and will to win it took for him to make that play. "I've never seen anything like that," Justin Morneau said. "I can say that for a fact." Morneau was at first base on the play and watched as Mauer faked to him after fielding the ball after reliever Jose Mijares knocked the ball toward home plate. At first Mauer thought he might have a chance to throw out Gardner at third. But when he realized that Gardner had already rounded third and was nearly halfway home, he changed direction and began his charge for home. He reached out his glove when he dove near home plate, tagging Gardner in the chest before the outfielder could score. "What's most impressive is that it's not like he could see where the runner was for most of the play," Morneau said. "He was looking directly at me. But he knew what he was going to do before he even saw where the runner was. To think that quick and make that play, it's pretty unbelievable." And though Mauer might have described it as just reacting to what was happening on the field, Punto said something more important helped the catcher make that play. "It's reacting, but it's also about instincts," Punto said. "He has great instincts out on the baseball field, and it showed in his ability to make that play."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.