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05/29/08 1:36 AM ET
Morneau, Monroe lead Twins to victory
First baseman and pinch-hitter homer in ninth and 10th innings
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY -- Craig Monroe had a conversation recently with Jason Kubel about his struggles at the plate. In the midst of an 0-for-17 stretch, Monroe was trying to find ways to get out of his slump. Kubel referenced his own 0-for-15 hitless streak earlier this year. He said that it was a pinch-hit home run that snapped the streak and helped him to turn things around offensively. That exchange popped into Monroe's mind when he stepped up to the plate to pinch-hit for Alexi Casilla in the midst of the Twins' comeback effort in the ninth inning on Wednesday night against the Royals. "I had that idea that maybe it's possible for me too," Monroe said. Monroe's visualization quickly became reality. Despite having not played in four days, Monroe belted a 3-2 pitch from Royals right-hander Joel Peralta for his second career pinch-hit home run. The game-tying, three-run shot by Monroe into the bullpen in left field completed what was a five-run ninth-inning comeback for the Twins. The rally sent the game into extra innings, and Justin Morneau hit a first-pitch solo homer in the top of the 10th to give Minnesota a 9-8 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. It was an improbable comeback that seemed only fitting considering the way the first game of the series had gone. Before the series opener against the Royals on Tuesday night, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire remarked that games between the two clubs always end up coming down to their bullpens. It's just that in the first two contests of the series, neither club would have expected that to be the case. The Twins headed into the ninth inning on Tuesday night holding a 3-0 lead, only to watch it disappear on a defensive miscue that led to a game-tying, three-run, inside-the-park home run. Minnesota's bullpen stepped up and allowed the Twins to capture a 12-inning, 4-3 victory over the Royals. On Wednesday night, Kansas City looked even more assured of a "W" when the Royals entered the ninth with an 8-3 advantage. Bolstered by an eight-inning gem from starter Zack Greinke, who held the Twins to just three runs on five hits, the Royals turned to their relief corps in the ninth to face the bottom half of Minnesota's lineup. For the second straight night, the Twins found a way to get to the Royals relievers. This time, the Twins put together perhaps their most impressive comeback of the season so far. Jason Kubel began the Twins' rally with a one-out single to right off right-hander Ramon Ramirez. Kubel advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Mike Lamb's RBI single to right. Lamb's hit was the first of three straight two-out singles in the inning by the Twins, who scored one run in the process. "A couple things started happening, and guys just started rolling with it," Joe Mauer said of the ninth inning. "A few professional at-bats and things start happening pretty quick." That's when Gardenhire turned to Monroe, who had not gotten a start on Wednesday despite being a career .389 (7-for-18) hitter against Greinke. Monroe came to the plate representing the tying run. After getting ahead 3-0 in the count, Monroe missed the take sign the Twins had put on and swung at Peralta's next pitch. He fouled off that pitch, then swung and missed to make it a 3-2 count. That's when he delivered the crucial homer to knot the game and send it to extra-innings. "He was probably supposed to play anyway, so I told him that's probably why he hit a home run," Gardenhire said. "I wanted to run that kid [Delmon Young] back out there and see what happens. So I think the game probably owed him that." Monroe credited the home run to a change he's made recently at the plate. He ditched his usual leg kick, feeling that his lack of playing time was affecting his rhythm, and tried to shorten up his swing. He hoped the change would help him get more hits when called upon from the bench. "My goal is to do one thing, and that's try to be productive for this team when I get my opportunity," Monroe said. The comeback helped turn around what had been a disappointing game up to that point for the Twins. Starter Livan Hernandez, who was 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in two previous starts vs. Kansas City this season, struggled early. He gave up eight runs (six earned) on 13 hits over six-plus innings. Hernandez's two unearned runs came as a result of more defensive miscues by Young in left. One night after allowing a game-tying, three-run, inside-the-park home run to Mark Teahen in the ninth, Young recorded two fielding errors in one inning. Young's blunders came in addition to some other missed plays in the field by the Twins -- a continuation of recent defensive troubles for Minnesota that has definitely frustrated their skipper. "I don't think that's the norm here," Gardenhire said of his team's errors. "We're trying to get better. It's a work in progress." The mistakes and missed opportunities earlier in the game had the Twins expecting a night of disappointment. But somehow, someway, these Twins are finding ways to grind it through and pull out victories -- even in the most unlikely of scenarios. "It's just another one of those wild ones in Kansas City," Gardenhire said. "To the guys' credit, they kept playing and getting after it. ... It was a fun way to come back and get a win. It says a lot about the character of these guys. They never quit."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.