Joe Mauer closes batting title gap on Miguel Cabrera with MLB-leading 22nd three-hit game

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For a while it looked like Miguel Cabrera’s biggest hurdle in claiming the triple crown would be topping Josh Hamilton in homers, but Joe Mauer has been on fire this month to close the gap in the batting average race.

Mauer had his MLB-leading 22nd three-hit game of the season last night and is now hitting .418 this month, bringing his overall batting average up to .326 compared to .329 for Cabrera.

Here are the MLB leaders in three-hit games:

Joe Mauer           22
Miguel Cabrera      21
Ryan Braun          18
Derek Jeter         18
Torii Hunter        18
Adrian Beltre       18
Andrew McCutchen    17
Michael Bourn       17

Everyone on that list is batting above .300 except for Bourn, who’s hitting just .274 but has come to the plate an MLB-high 690 times as the Braves’ leadoff man and did most of his damage in the first half.

As for Mauer, he’s already won batting average titles in 2006, 2008, and 2009 and his .324 career mark is second to only Albert Pujols at .325 among all active players. Mauer got off to a slow start following his injury wrecked 2011 season, but since carrying a .265 batting average on May 17 he’s hit .347 in 103 games.

Phillies walk off winners thanks to a poor decision by Marcell Ozuna

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The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.

In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.

On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.

Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.