Twins feel good after win despite fatigue
Morneau's homer helps Minnesota keep pace with White Sox
OAKLAND -- Warming up before Sunday's series finale in Oakland, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said he couldn't remember a time when his body felt worse this season.Pitcher Scott Baker was trying to remember if he had ever made three starts on a road trip before this one. With the way the Twins were talking following a 12-4 blowout victory over the A's on Sunday afternoon, it would seem like they had just finished a typical, long three-city West Coast swing. But the reality was that even after 11 straight games on the road, the Twins aren't done just yet. The club's longest road trip in 39 years finished its West Coast swing on Sunday. And what awaited the club? Yet another plane ride to a different city. Oh yeah, and one that's three time zones away -- Toronto. "This road trip is getting a little tough," Baker admitted after allowing just one run to the A's over his six innings. "The hotel rooms start to run together a bit and it's a little bit monotonous. "But I think we keep concentrating on each series, saying let's take it one series at a time. And finally we're on the last leg of it. It's a grind for sure, but we want to finish strong." The Twins made their cross-country plane ride and ensuing off-day on Monday a little easier by cruising to a victory on Sunday afternoon. That's because one day after suffering perhaps their most crushing defeat of the season in a 3-2 loss to the A's in the ninth inning on Saturday night, the Twins offense found a way to help the club quickly move on from it. "This team has had a pretty good short memory all year," Morneau said. "We've bounced back from tough losses like that it seems like pretty well." Two big home runs in the first six innings helped the Twins catapult to a 6-1 lead. Morneau played a big part in that, driving in the first Twins run in the first inning with an RBI single to center. Following a two-run homer by Alexi Casilla in the second inning off A's starter Greg Smith, Morneau added a three-run blast to start off the sixth. The three-run shot gave Morneau career RBIs Nos. 500, 501 and 502. He became only the ninth Twins player to reach the 500 career RBIs mark. But personal accomplishments certainly aren't what is helping Morneau to get through the usual aches and pains that come at this time of the year. "The energy from a pennant race, there is nothing like it," Morneau said. "I kept looking up there to see that Chicago-Boston score change but it was 4-2 our whole game. It's just one of those things. You are paying attention [to the scores] and you try not to let it distract you. But at the same time, we knew we had to win today going into the off-day." After the White Sox picked up a 4-2 win over Boston earlier on Sunday, the Twins knew they needed a victory to keep them just a half-game back of Chicago in the division race. With that in mind, the early offensive output helped to make things a tad easier for Baker (8-4), who delivered his third quality start of this road trip and earned his first "W" since July 26. Even though the Twins had built a 6-1 lead for their starter following Morneau's homer with no outs in the sixth, the offense didn't let up. Jason Kubel followed up Morneau's homer with a double to left field. And pinch-runner Carlos Gomez replaced Kubel and immediately stole third base. It allowed Gomez to score on Mike Redmond's RBI double to right. Denard Span then delivered a sacrifice fly to left with the bases loaded and one out to make it an 8-1 contest. Considering that eight of the first 10 games of the road trip had been decided by two runs or less, the team was determined not to let up on any scoring opportunities. "I think we all understand that a five-run lead is nothing in baseball anymore," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So in the sixth inning, we've got to go at it as hard as we can. Here in this ballpark -- and on this road trip -- we've seen too many crazy things happen." The Twins didn't let anything outrageous happen Sunday, adding four more runs over their final two innings even when left-hander Eddie Guardado gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning in the eighth. And the ballclub headed off to Toronto with a 5-6 record so far on the road trip. An off-day on Monday will give the Twins a short reprieve before they take on the Blue Jays for the final three games of this cross-country trek. Morneau admitted that these first 11 games of the trip, which completed a stretch of 17 straight for the club, have taken their toll on the players physically as well as mentally. That's why he said it seems like the perfect time for an off-day. But then again, when a team finds itself possibly just one game away from taking possession of first place, the grind at this time of the season doesn't seem quite so bad. "We're a half-game back so when you go out there you seem to feel pretty good, pretty quick," Morneau said with a laugh. "You feel those aches and pains a lot more when you are 10 games back then when you are a half-game back. Off-days are nice but we are playing for something. So it'll be good to be running back out there again."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.