Morneau's timely hits lift Minnesota
Slugger drives in two key runs as Twins beat Royals
KANSAS CITY -- Manager Ron Gardenhire and Justin Morneau were talking during early batting practice before Monday's game at Kauffman Stadium and Gardenhire mentioned to Morneau that he had never managed a losing Major League team. Morneau realized that he had never played on one.
Neither wants to see the trend end.
Helped by a complete team effort, Minnesota took a big step toward accomplishing the goal with its second straight win, a 4-2 victory over the Royals. Morneau drove in two runs, including the game-winning RBI.
"It is something that we don't want to start now and I think everyone in here is aware of that for us to get back to .500, and then hopefully finish above," Morneau said. "That's the goal. It's important to me and I think everybody in here. We have obviously underachieved as a team, but we don't want to underachieve that much. There is something to shoot for."
Minnesota hasn't finished under .500 since it went 69-93 in 2000, the second to last season of the Tom Kelly era. Gardenhire took over in 2002 and has posted a .552 career winning percentage. The Twins have 90 or more games four times and have never won fewer than 83 with Gardenhire in charge.
"There is no clause in my contract," Gardenhire said of breaking .500. "There is a clause in my heart."
The Twins have heeded Gardenhire's and Morneau's goal. Minnesota, which entered the night three games under .500, won its second straight game after dropping a season-high six in a row, including several games in the weekend series against the White Sox that it probably should have won.
"The guys are getting after it pretty good and playing and they are pretty loose in the dugout," Gardenhire said. "That is all you ask. The guys are hustling and running balls out. You play out the rest of the season and you see what happens. And we are doing that."
On Monday, Minnesota received a strong bounce-back effort from Boof Bonser, another a two-run double from Jason Kubel and excellent bullpen work from Nick Blackburn, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan.
"It was a good win for our baseball team," Gardenhire said.
Bonser helped set the foundation with his seventh win of the season. The right-hander entered the night mired in a slump. In his last 15 starts, Bonser had a 1-10 record and 5.56 ERA.
Minnesota was 3-12 in those games, including taking the loss in Bonser's last start. That outing, a career-low 1 2/3 innings against the Indians, made Bonser's rotation spot a little tenuous entering Monday.
However, Bonser delivered a strong bounce-back effort with five innings of two-run ball. Gardenhire said it "wasn't the most beautiful thing" he had seen, but it was effective -- and solid enough for Bonser to keep his spot.
"Just battling all night," Bonser said. "It was a step in the right direction after the last outing that I had."
Bonser threw just 40 pitches in the first three innings and tossed another 48 in his final two. Overall, he allowed five hits and walked four. Bonser tossed shutout ball through the first four innings before he allowed two runs in the fifth that tied the game at 2.
With runners on first and second and two out, Mike Sweeney hit a sinking line drive into right-center field. Michael Cuddyer nearly made a sprawling, diving catch, but he couldn't quite make the grab. Sweeney finished with a double. However, after a walk to Mark Teahen, Bonser coaxed an Alex Gordon fly ball and evaded further damage.
"Too many deep counts," Gardenhire said. "That is the only thing that we are looking at. The leadoff man was seemingly on almost every inning and he had to battle through it. He made pitches when he had to. We are hoping to see a little bit better than that, but we will go from there. He got a win and that is big for Boof."
Morneau provided the offensive support in the sixth. With one out, Torii Hunter walked against Billy Buckner. Musser relieved for Buckner and promptly allowed a RBI double to left field by Morneau that gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead.
The Twins tacked on an insurance run in the seventh. Jason Bartlett led off with a single and, two outs later, Hunter grounded a single up the middle. Tony Pena and Mark Grudzielanek collided trying to field the ball and Hunter reached first safely. Morneau followed with his second RBI of the night with a single to right.
After Blackburn tossed 2 2/3 shutout innings, Matt Guerrier kept the lead when he struck out Esteban German on three pitches with bases loaded and two outs in the eighth.
"I felt good throwing fastballs to him," Guerrier said. "When he is ahead in the count, I think he likes to go the other way, because most guys throw breaking balls in that situation."
Nathan closed out the ninth for 31st save -- and another victory that bumped Minnesota closer to .500.
"We expect to win," Morneau said. "We are not in the playoff hunt in September and that is tough. We expected to be there when we started the season, but at the same time, we are not going to try to let it get us down."
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.