Morneau's magic lifts Twins to victory
Slugger hits game-winning home run in 11th inning
DETROIT -- Following an emotionally draining series in Boston where every break seemed to go against Minnesota, it might have been easy for the Twins to feel like the same thing was happening to them again Thursday afternoon.A five-run inning by their starter put the club in an early hole in the series opener against the Tigers and, from there, the signs almost pointed to things going awry once again. The team saw a Detroit hitter walk on three pitches. It watched as one of its own baserunners was ruled out while trying to steal -- when replays appeared to show that he had never been tagged. And, well, even a potential home run by Justin Morneau in the eighth inning was ruled to have bounced off the yellow line for a double in the deepest part of the ballpark. "You just thought it was going to be one of those nutty days like we had in Boston," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's like, 'Oh no, not again.'" But instead of seeing yet another game slip away, Minnesota showed more of that pluckiness that helped it to pull off an unbelievable recent stretch of 18 wins in 21 games. With some big relief outings from their bullpen and a trio of hitters delivering memorable days, the Twins rebounded to capture a drama-filled 7-6 comeback victory over the Tigers in 11 innings before a sellout crowd of 41,952 at Comerica Park. "It reminded me of how we were playing back at the Metrodome," outfielder Denard Span said. "We just kept chipping away and finally closed it out." Nearly all of Minnesota's early runs came as a result of tremendous days by three of the club's hitters -- Nick Punto, Span and Morneau. The trio combined for 11 of the club's 15 hits, and scored six of the club's seven runs. That included the big one by Morneau in the top of the 11th, when he made up for his earlier missed homer by belting a solo shot off Tigers reliever Freddy Dolsi to score the winning run. The shot completed the second five-hit game of Morneau's career, with his first coming Sept. 19, 2006, at Boston. Things certainly didn't look like they would end in victory after Twins starter Kevin Slowey blew a two-run lead by giving up six runs on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. That included giving up five runs in the fourth before he was pulled. Slowey's early exit gave the Minnesota bullpen a chance at redemption just one day after it gave up 12 runs in 3 2/3 innings in an 18-5 loss to Boston. And the Twins stepped up to the challenge, holding the Tigers scoreless for seven innings. Not that there wasn't some drama along the way. Minnesota tagged southpaw Kenny Rogers for three runs in seven innings before getting to closer Todd Jones in the ninth inning trailing by just two runs, 6-4. This time, the Twins took advantage of a Tigers mistake to help spark their comeback. Span followed up Punto's leadoff single in the inning with a hit to Detroit right fielder Matt Joyce. But Joyce misplayed the ball, and it headed all the way back to the right-field wall. His fielding error allowed Punto to score and Span to reach third base, leaving the tying run just 90 feet away. Pinch-hitter Joe Mauer then replaced Carlos Gomez, and he delivered a sacrifice fly to left field to knot the game up at 6. Unable to get the go-ahead run to score in the inning despite having runners on first and second with two outs, Minnesota turned to its closer for the bottom of the ninth. "Normally we don't throw him in there in that situation, but he needed to pitch," Gardenhire said. "Our thoughts were, 'If he could get through a good inning, maybe he could go two innings if we got the lead.'" That wouldn't be an option, as Joe Nathan created his fair share of nail-biting moments in the ninth. Nathan walked the first two batters of the inning -- Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera. With runners on first and second, Nathan got Joyce to pop out for the first out of the inning. But a wild pitch in the ensuing at-bat put the winning run just 90 feet from home plate with one out in the inning. Trying to set up a double play, Nathan intentionally walked Clete Thomas to load the bases. And in what can only be deemed his own type of magic, Nathan managed to get out of the inning unscathed by striking out back-to-back hitters -- rookie Jeff Larish and then Ivan Rodriguez. He threw 31 pitches in the inning, though only 15 for strikes. "I was out in center field like, 'Uh oh, we're in trouble,'" Span said. "Next thing you know, strike three, strike three, and I was like, 'Wow.' ... It was pretty impressive." The club then turned to Matt Guerrier in the 10th. It was Guerrier's first time back on the mound since giving up three runs to blow a lead in the eighth and take the loss Tuesday night in Boston. It had been an uncharacteristic moment for the pitcher, who has taken over the majority of work in the setup role for the Twins. And this time, Guerrier stepped up to hold the Tigers scoreless for the final two innings -- including in the 11th while holding a one-run lead following Morneau's home run. After giving up a two-out double to Joyce, Guerrier got Thomas out on a called third strike and pumped his fist in excitement. "It was real important," Guerrier said. "For us to be down four late in the game and come back, and you already have Joe out of the game, it's one of those times where you just try to hold it as long as you can." It was a big outing for Guerrier and a big win for Minnesota, one that could have sent the Twins spinning in the wrong direction had it turned out the other way. "If they end up scoring with the bases loaded there, yeah, that would have been really tough after battling back," Morneau said. "To somehow find a way [to win] against a team that has been playing pretty good baseball, it's a great day."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.