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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joe Mauer isn't sure if Sunday marked the end of his time with the Minnesota Twins. Just in case, though, the regular season finale turned into a farewell befitting his remarkable career with his hometown team.
Mauer doubled in his final at-bat, received one more pitch as catcher, and then walked off to an extended ovation as Minnesota likely said goodbye to the longtime face of its franchise during an emotional 5-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.
The 35-year-old Mauer was playing the final game of an eight-year, $184 million contract. So far, he's been noncommittal regarding his plans for next year and beyond.
"It's been an emotional rollercoaster. I'm not 100 percent sure," he said. "I want to make sure I have some time just to take a deep breath and really be behind that decision."
There certainly were plenty of touches that made Sunday's game feel like a final appearance, none more dramatic than Mauer's surprise appearance behind the plate in the ninth.
Mauer emerged from the dugout in his catching gear, the first time he'd worn it since late 2013, when a series of concussions forced him to move to first base. He stood alone at home plate as fans, teammates and opponents showered him with applause.
The 2009 AL MVP caught one pitch from Matt Belisle. Then, with the theme music from "The Natural" playing over the speakers, he walked off to a final standing ovation and was replaced by Chris Gimenez.
"We had an opportunity to do that, and I didn't think that was going to be a possibility ever," Mauer said. "I'm glad I took that opportunity."
Twins manager Paul Molitor said he'd worked out the logistics of the moment with White Sox manager Rick Renteria before the game.
"Rick was fantastic. I told him I didn't want to disrespect the game or the integrity of winning or losing," Molitor said. "(I said) it would be a one-pitch scenario and we assured him that we would try to throw a ball as best as we could. And it worked out."
White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada was the batter at the time and said he was more than happy to do his part.
"When I went to home plate, he said, 'Hey, can you take the first pitch?'" Moncada said. "It was very exciting, and an emotional moment. I was just glad to be part of that."
Mauer is a three-time AL batting champ and six-time All-Star over 15 major league seasons, all with Minnesota. A three-sport star from St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall High School, Mauer was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft and made his debut with the Twins in 2004.
Even his final plate appearance was classic Mauer. He sent a line drive into the left-center gap off Juan Minaya, then hustled to second, sliding in just ahead of left fielder Nicky Delmonico's throw.
When asked if he thought about playing it safe to avoid getting thrown out in potentially his last at-bat, Mauer shrugged and said, "That's just how I play the game. I saw that (Delmonico) was moving a little to his left, and in a one-run game I'm going to try to get into scoring position. You've got to keep playing the game."
Max Kepler and Jake Cave homered for the Twins, and reliever Andrew Vasquez (1-0) earned his first major league victory with one perfect inning of relief. Trevor May replaced Belisle and got three straight outs with the tying run on second in the ninth to earn his third save.
Dylan Covey (5-14) gave up five runs over six innings.
The day was filled with memorable moments for Mauer, who started at first base and batted leadoff. For Sunday home games, each Twins player is joined at his position by a young fan for the national anthem. On Sunday, Mauer's 5-year-old twin daughters, Emily and Maren, surprised him by running out to meet him at first base.
"I thought I had it going pretty good, holding it together, and then my two girls ran out on the field and I lost it there for a moment.
The crowd of 30,144 gave Mauer an extended standing ovation before his first at-bat. He then shook hands with umpire Jim Reynolds and White Sox catcher Wellington Castillo before facing Covey.
BY THE NUMBERS
If Mauer retires after this season, he will finish second in Twins history in games played, third in runs scored, second in hits, first in doubles, and second in walks. He broke the Twins' career record for times on base earlier in the homestand.
The White Sox lost their 100th game of the year, the first time they've done so since 1970.
"As far as the numbers, they are what they are," Renteria said. "I think I have to reflect on how we got to that point and some of the things we have to do to correct it, and move on."
Meanwhile, the Twins won their sixth straight game to end the season, giving them 78 victories — seven fewer than last year, when they were the AL's second wild card.
But Molitor clearly feels bullish about the team's chances to return to the playoffs in 2019. When asked if the organization would give Mauer another memorable departure if he returned to play next year, the Twins manager replied, "Next year at this time, we'll be planning for our next game, so I don't think the situation will be the same."
Moncada struck out once, giving him a major league-leading 217. That's just six behind the record of 223, set by Mark Reynolds of the Rockies in 2009.
IN THE STANDS
The Twins announced an official home attendance of 1,959,197, which included two "home" games played in Puerto Rico in April. That total is their lowest since 2004, when they still played at the Metrodome.