Twins Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins together again as All-Stars
Levity is at a premium in the Twins' clubhouse these days. Extended occupancy in or near the basement of your division does that. So when a chance to lighten the mood presented itself recently, manager Ron Gardenhire seized it.
A week ago Saturday, Gardenhire gathered the Twins in the visitors' clubhouse in Toronto and nonchalantly informed them that catcher/DH Joe Mauer officially had been chosen for his sixth all-star game appearance and fourth start.
"He didn't say how many [Twins had been tabbed], he just said, 'All right Joe, you're going to the All-Star Game,' " Mauer recalled.
A few seconds of silence followed as anticipation thickened.
"It was definitely a little bit of a hanging," closer Glen Perkins said.
When Gardenhire got around to mentioning in oh-by-the-way fashion that Mauer would be accompanied to Citi Field by Perkins, the room erupted.
"It was a really cool moment," Mauer said.
Cool? In the case of these Twin Cities natives, who attended high school within a 30-minute drive of each other, the announcement was surreal, sublime, maybe even a bit stupendous.
For the third time in their lives, including the World Baseball Classic this past March, Mauer and Perkins are all-star cohorts. The first pairing occurred 12 summers ago in south Minnesota, when both 18-year-olds were part of the Metro East Lions all-star squad.
Because roommates were determined alphabetically, they even bunked together.
"I went to college [at the University of Minnesota], he went to pro ball and that was the summer of 2001," said Perkins, born 48 days before Mauer in March of 1983. "And another 12 years later, being together in another All-Star Game . . . it's a pretty neat cycle here."
Just not one Perkins ever envisioned.
Three summers ago, he was floundering as a starter for the Twins' Triple-A affiliate. Unable to build on the momentum of his breakout 2008 season (12-4, 4.41 ERA) in the big leagues, he began pondering whether his career might be resuscitated in the bullpen.
"That was the low point of my career," said Perkins, selected for the All-Star team as an injury replacement for White Sox reliever Jesse Crain.
"But I think as much as anything, it makes you not take anything for granted. I know what it's like to have it taken away. I had gotten pretty comfortable to a fault, I guess, here. You learn that it's not guaranteed."
By 2011, Perkins had successfully reinvented himself, compiling a 2.48 ERA in 65 relief appearances and earning Twins' pitcher of the year and comeback player of the year honors. When closer Matt Capps went down the following July (rotator cuff), Perkins notched 16 saves in his place.
This season, he has 21 saves in 23 chances through Saturday. In 15 games since May 29, he has thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings.
"I knew that I had what it took," Perkins said. "But it was about finding the right spot for me and about being in the right spot and doing the work, having those come together."
Meantime, Mauer forges onward with a prolific steadiness that has prompted Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon to call him a "metronome."
Mauer is hitting .321 through Saturday and he's on pace for 49 doubles, which would fall two shy of the 67-year-old franchise record. "I just wish we were in a different place team-wise," he said.
"I think he's met or exceeded every expectation of him so far 10 years into his career," Perkins said. "You look back at [overall] No. 1 [draft] picks, he's in the conversation with anybody as far as living up to that billing."
Had the planets aligned a tad more precisely, Perkins' and Mauer's children could commingle on the Citi Field turf during the home run derby. Perkins said his kids -- ages 6 and 4 -- will be at his side. Mauer and wife Maddie aren't due to become parents until late August.
"She's not able to make it out to the [All-Star] game but she's doing great," Mauer said.
Appropriately, they're expecting twins.