Morneau comes through early, late
Slugger homers in first, hits RBI double in fifth inning
MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau had seen this kind of start to a season before in his career, having gone hitless in his first 12 at-bats of the 2008 season.The Twins first baseman entered Wednesday night's contest against the Mariners in the same kind of hitless streak to start the '09 season. He was 0-for-8 in the first two contests of the year against Seattle. But on a night when the Twins needed their offense to step up due to the fact that starter Kevin Slowey was struggling to find his command, it seemed like the perfect night for Morneau to end that streak -- and that's exactly what he did. The Twins first baseman belted a two-run homer in the first inning and helped spark a scoring drive in the fifth when he hustled for a double, as the Twins pulled off a 6-5 victory over the Mariners at the Metrodome. For Morneau, seeing his hitless streak end on Wednesday night wasn't nearly as big of a relief as it was last season. "Last year I had just signed the multi-year deal and I was trying to earn it all in the first series and putting a lot of pressure on myself," Morneau said. "This year, I was relaxed. My swing felt good coming out of Spring Training and I hadn't really changed anything. I told myself to just go out there and try not to change anything. By sticking with his swing, Morneau got his first homer of the year out of the way early in the contest. But while that got him off to a good start, it was his dribbler up the middle in the fifth that seemed even more critical in the game. The hit by Morneau scored Michael Cuddyer from second base and knotted the game up at 5. What first appeared to be just another single quickly turned into a double thanks to Morneau's aggressive baserunning. He tested the arm of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and was rewarded for the decision, sliding safely into second head-first. "I don't get too many chances to do something with my speed -- or lack thereof," Morneau joked. "You take advantage of guys. He didn't look like he was going after it very hard and I don't think he thought I was going to go. I ended up sliding head first and shaking the ground a little bit. But it's fun when you do that. Guys in the dugout get fired up." The energy that Morneau showed on that double seemed to be a carryover from the emotional lift the club got in the ninth inning of their 6-5 comeback win on Tuesday night against the Mariners. This time the rally didn't take nearly as much effort. Morneau's double put the go-ahead run for the Twins in scoring position. Jason Kubel then followed with a double down the first-base line, scoring Morneau and giving the Twins a 6-5 lead. It wasn't the score that many would have predicted for the finish as early in the contest, it had been a slugfest of home runs between the two clubs. The Twins and Mariners combined to hit four homers in the first four innings. Morneau got that home run binge started in the first inning with his two-run shot to right field off Mariners starter Carlos Silva. Seattle then knotted the score in the second with Russell Branyan's two-run blast to deep center field off Slowey. The Twins regained the lead in the bottom of the second when Denard Span added the club's second two-run homer of the night, putting the Twins up, 4-2. But Slowey once again couldn't hold the lead as he gave up three runs in the fourth, including a solo homer by Jose Lopez. Yuniesky Betancourt tied the game with his RBI double to center and then put his club ahead when he scored on a wild pitch by Slowey. "Everything was up," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Slowey's pitches. "He was spinning off balls. He knew exactly what was going on the whole time and the last two innings he finally relaxed enough to get the ball where he wanted to." Slowey (1-0) settled down after the wild pitch, retiring seven straight batters to finish his outing. Despite the rough start, in which he had thrown 73 pitches in four innings, he managed to make it through six innings while allowing the five runs on nine hits during his outing. "For him to get through six innings is unbelievable," closer Joe Nathan said. "He was obviously battling out there and it was not his best control. It shows you what kind of pitcher he is. Even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he is going to go out there and continue to compete and try to get us to that seventh inning. ... Usually when we can get to the seventh inning, more times than not things go well for us." That was the case again on Wednesday night as the Twins bullpen was able to hold the one-run advantage. Twins left-hander Craig Breslow pitched a scoreless seventh inning, while allowing one hit. The Twins then gave the first glimpse at who might occupy the setup role when Jesse Crain took the mound in the eighth inning. Crain walked one batter, but retired the three other batters he faced. Gardenhire said afterward that Crain will likely share time in the setup role with Luis Ayala. Crain got the ball on Wednesday night after Ayala had been used in the first two games. The important thing was that Crain got the ball into Nathan's hands with the one-run lead and he was able to convert save No. 200 as a member of the Twins to complete the win.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.