© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
08/09/06 11:54 PM ET
Morneau's 30th takes finale in Detroit
Santana gives up three earned runs in seven innings
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The Twins have been waiting nearly two decades to see a player hit 30 home runs, so it seems forgivable if Justin Morneau was trying to rush the process a bit. Since hitting his 29th homer on Saturday, Morneau admitted that No. 30 was on his mind. It showed in some of his recent at-bats, including one early in the game on Wednesday night when Morneau grounded into a double play on a 2-0 pitch with the bases loaded. But while Morneau seemed a bit anxious to get to the number that had seemed so unattainable for a Twins hitter for so long, it sure seemed to be worth the wait when it did come in the Twins' 4-3 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday night. "I was thinking about it a little, you could kind of see that in my first few at-bats before that," Monreau said of the historic number for the club. "So it was nice to get a chance to redeem myself at the end." In the eighth inning, with the Twins trailing by one run, Morneau came to the plate with Joe Mauer on first base and faced a pitcher who has given the Twins fits all year -- flame thrower Joel Zumaya. Knowing that Zumaya almost always throws a first-pitch fastball, Morneau took his chance on the 99-mph pitch. The ball started sailing toward right field, looking like it may drift foul. With the entire Twins bench cheering for the ball to stay fair, the 370-foot shot kept just left of the right-field foul pole to put the Twins ahead, 4-3. "There's not a better time to hit one," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. The home run not only made Morneau the first Twins player to hit 30 homers since 1987 when Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tony Brunansky all accomplished the feat, but most importantly, it lifted the Twins to their first series victory at Comerica Park this season. To win their final two games at the ballpark where they had gone 0-7 to start the year was the best ending the Twins could have hoped for in this series. But this victory wasn't an easy one to capture, as the two clubs engaged in an all-out battle until the end. In what can only be described as a fever-pitch atmosphere before a crowd of 36,339 fans, the pitching matchup proved to be as good as advertised with Johan Santana and Jeremy Bonderman nearly matching each other pitch-for-pitch through seven innings. The Twins got on the board in the first inning. Luis Castillo singled to right and Nick Punto followed with a double to left that knocked in Castillo and put the Twins on top, 1-0. That lead held up until the sixth, when a leadoff triple by Tigers center fielder Brent Clevlen proved costly. The next batter, Placido Polanco, hit a ball that stretched just out of the reach of Santana and into center field to knot the game at 1. It then quickly turned into a see-saw affair between the two offenses as they traded runs back and forth over the next two innings. The Twins took a lead in the seventh on an RBI single by Castillo before Santana made his lone mistake in the bottom of the seventh. Santana walked the first batter of the inning and then left a changeup a little high in the zone that Brandon Inge delivered to the left-field seats, putting the Tigers up, 3-2. Even with the lone miscue, Santana (13-5) delivered one of his best starts of the season as he held the Tigers to just three runs on four hits over seven innings. The Twins ace struck out 10 and walked just two. Still, Santana would have been in line for the loss had it not been for Morneau's ability to outpower Zumaya for the game-winning homer and put himself not only at the 30 home-run mark but also give him 101 RBIs on the season. "He came up in a situation where we needed it most," Santana said of Morneau's milestone. "To see him get the last pitch out there 100 mph and turn it into 101 RBIs, it was pretty good." Once Morneau got the lead for the Twins, the club's bullpen did the rest as Juan Rincon, Dennys Reyes and Joe Nathan combined to retire the final six batters. Nathan struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth and recorded his 25th save of the season. The victory also pulled the Twins to within 8 1/2 games of the Tigers for the American League Central lead and with a White Sox loss on Wednesday night, the Twins took over the Wild Card lead. It's certainly not a position the club could have imagined itself being in just two months ago. "Hopefully, this sends a message to everyone else that we're going to stick around and try to make the playoffs," Morneau said. And making the win even more sweet was the fact that the Twins were able to hold a special ceremony in the clubhouse following the game to honor Morneau with his 30th home run ball, which the team was able to retrieve from the fan who caught it in right field. "I think we had to give the guy the Metrodome," Gardenhire said with a laugh. "But he can have it after 2010." It didn't cost nearly that much -- just a signed team ball and a bat from Morneau -- but for Morneau, it's a moment that will stick with him. "It's nice, because now I can just move on and relax a little," Morneau said with a smile. "Hopefully I won't be stuck on 30 home runs and 101 RBIs." The way Morneau has been playing lately, that doesn't seem like too much of a concern.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.