MINNEAPOLIS -- There is no question about the impact Joe Mauer's bat had on the Minnesota lineup in 2009, but the club was reminded just how critical the catcher's presence is behind the plate when it was without him for the entire first month of the season.
Yet the Twins are far from the only ones who have an appreciation of Mauer's defensive prowess.
On Tuesday, Mauer was named the winner of a Rawlings Gold Glove Award for the second consecutive year. Managers and coaches from each Major League club vote for the best defensive players in their respective leagues. They are excluded from voting for players on their own team.
The rest of the AL Gold Glove winners this year were White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, Yankees first baseman Mark Texeira, Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The outfield winners consisted of the Angels' Torii Hunter, the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki and the Orioles' Adam Jones.
While Mauer, 26, made himself a front-runner for the 2009 American League MVP Award thanks to his amazing offensive stats -- earning his third batting title by hitting .365 and recording career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (96) -- his .996 fielding percentage ranked third among all AL backstops. Mauer's arm wasn't quite as strong as it was in 2008, as he threw out 26 percent (19 of 73) of would-be basestealers, but his 3.53 zone rating ranked first among all AL catchers.
Mauer committed just three errors in 758 total chances, making 105 starts behind the plate -- an impressive number considering that he didn't play in Spring Training and missed all of April due to lower back inflammation.
"When he's not in the lineup and not in the field handling the running game and everything, you miss those things," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said just before Mauer's return to the lineup on May 1. "He's an All-Star, and, you know, probably the best hitter in the league. So, yeah, you miss that a lot."
It's the ninth straight year that the Twins have boasted at least one Gold Glove winner and the 40th time overall that a player from Minnesota has captured one of the fielding awards. Mauer becomes the second Twins catcher to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons. Early Battey, the only other catcher from Minnesota to win a Gold Glove, took home the award in 1961 and '62.
Mauer's 2009 season defensively might best be defined by one play in New York on May 17. The game against the Yankees was tied at 2 in the ninth and the go-ahead run for the Bombers was at second base with one out. Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli lined a shot up the middle that reliever Jose Mijares tried to catch behind his back with his glove.
Instead, the ball bounced back toward home plate, and Mauer charged to field it. Faking a throw to first, Mauer thought he might have a chance to throw the runner out at third. But when he turned he saw Brett Gardner already racing down the line and had to outrace the speedy outfielder, who only two days before had hit an inside-the-park homer against the Twins. Mauer changed direction and began his charge for home. On a football-type run and dive, Mauer reached out his glove and tagged Gardner in the chest to prevent the winning run from scoring
"I've never seen anything like that," first baseman Justin Morneau said of the play. "I can say that for a fact. ... What's most impressive is that it's not like he could see where the runner was for most of the play. 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."
While Mauer's defense earned him this award, his offense is also a big reason why he's considered one of the best catchers in the game right now and why he might rank among the best in history by the time his career is complete. The 26-year-old became the first catcher in Major League history to earn three batting titles, and he's the only AL catcher to win one.
The 2009 season marks the 53rd year of the Gold Glove Award. The first Gold Gloves were awarded in 1957 to one player at each position from both leagues, then expanded the next year to include a lineup of nine players, one from each league.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.