Homer-happy Mauer, Twins sweep Crew

Mauer leads Twins to sweep

MINNEAPOLIS -- The lingering question surrounding the Twins for the past couple of years has been when will Joe Mauer finally start hitting home runs?

That question has certainly been answered and then some this month.

Mauer belted yet another home run on Sunday night -- his 10th since returning from the disabled list on May 1, surpassing his season total from 2008 -- and Justin Morneau added a grand slam in the seventh inning to help lift the Twins to a 6-3 victory over the Brewers on Sunday night at the Metrodome.

For Mauer, it's not just the number of home runs that's caught the attention of the league, but the consistency with which he's hit them. It's the fourth time in the past six games that Mauer has homered, and he's averaging a home run every eight at-bats. That from a hitter whose previous career high in homers was 13 in 2006.

The All-Star catcher also became just the third Twins player to hit 10 or more homers in the month of May, joining Harmon Killebrew (who did it three times) and Morneau.

"Nothing he does really surprises me," Morneau said of Mauer. "He's such a consistent hitter. His approach is so solid. You make a mistake to him and now instead of turning into doubles in the gap, that ball is going over the fence. Hopefully that continues."

The Twins (22-23) wouldn't seem to mind if the entire home run barrage this month would continue. The club has homered in seven straight games and has now hit 35 home runs in the month of May, the second most in the Majors behind the Yankees (39).

On Sunday night, it was a trio of home runs that scored all six of Minnesota's runs and helped carry the Twins to a series sweep over the Brewers.

A pair of solo shots -- one by Mauer and the other by Joe Crede -- helped the Twins to a 2-1 lead against Brewers starter Dave Bush going into the seventh inning before Morneau's slam broke the game wide open.

But fittingly, even that slam was sparked in part by Mauer. With runners on first and second and two outs, Brewers reliever Mitch Stetter hit Mauer with a pitch.

Mauer immediately reacted to being hit, grabbing his right hand and grimacing in pain. But home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson originally ruled it a foul ball.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire came out to check on Mauer and then returned to the dugout. But when it appeared that Mauer might be sent back to home plate, the skipper came running out again, flailing his arms and even taking off his hat to argue the call. The tirade persuaded Johnson to finally look again at Mauer's wrist, which already showed some black and blue, and the call was changed with Mauer taking first base.

Brewers manager Ken Macha then came out on the field to argue, but to no avail. What it amounted to was a strange series of events where everyone seemed to be confused by what was taking place on the field, including Morneau.

Having already headed back to the on-deck circle once, thinking Mauer might be coming back again to hit, Morneau stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded. He blasted the first pitch from Stetter, a hanging breaking ball, to the upper deck in right field for the fifth grand slam of his career and the fourth by a Twins player this season. The blast put the Twins up, 6-1.

"I didn't know what was going on," Morneau said of the situation. "It probably helped me. I just went up there, didn't know if I was hitting or not, and ended up getting a good pitch to hit."

All of the drama came in a contest that, up until the seventh inning, had been a pitchers' duel between Scott Baker and Bush (3-1).

One start after Baker received a stern message from pitching coach Rick Anderson in the midst of his performance vs. the White Sox, the right-hander delivered the kind of outing the club expects to see from its No. 1 starter.

Baker (2-5) threw 8 1/3 innings, holding the Brewers (26-18) to three runs on six hits while striking out six. Only one of those runs came before the ninth inning, with Baker even retiring a stretch of 11 straight batters in the middle of his outing.

For Baker, it was just the second quality start that he's delivered this season after signing a four-year, $15.25 million contract during Spring Training.

"[Anderson] and I worked pretty hard in between the starts to make the mechanical adjustments that needed to be made for me to be more consistent down in the zone," Baker said. "Sometimes it's like a light switch. It just clicks sometimes. The ball is coming good out of your hand and everything is down. That's where I got to in this game."

Gardenhire sent Baker out for the ninth after the right-hander had thrown just 97 pitches through eight innings. But after Baker allowed a two-run homer to Prince Fielder with one out in the ninth, Joe Nathan came in to get the final two outs. Nathan struck out Mike Cameron and Corey Hart to preserve the win.

"He's been through a lot, he's been battling and a lot's been said about how he's doing," Gardenhire said of Baker. "I really wanted him to finish that ballgame. It didn't work out, but what a performance by him, stepping up in a big situation like that and finishing off a sweep here of a team who's a very good baseball team.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.