06/21/08 12:56 AM ET
Baker solid as Twins batter Big Unit
Right-hander defeats D-backs with help from Monroe, Macri
By Thor Nystrom / MLB.com
"It's pretty cool," Twins starter Scott Baker said of beating someone he grew up watching. "Thankfully, it wasn't in Arizona, so I didn't have to hit against him."Matt Macri opened the scoring in the third with a two-run single up the middle on a full count. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said it was a great at-bat, especially because the skipper had implored his hitters to slap the ball up the middle with D-backs shortstop Stephen Drew playing them to pull. "Pretty good little slider he's got," Macri deadpanned about Johnson after the game. It was, in fact, an 87-mph slider that Macri muscled through the hole to give his club an early lead. That could have been the extent of the damage, but the Twins won twice betting against left fielder Jeff Salazar's arm. With Macri on third and one out later in the third, Joe Mauer hit a fly ball that Salazar secured. Macri tagged and beat Salazar's throw home on a very close play. On the next pitch, Morneau singled to left field and Salazar was challenged again. This time, speedy second baseman Alexi Casilla motored around third base as Salazar fielded the ball and whipped it in. Casilla narrowly beat catcher Miguel Montero's tag, scoring another run and extending the inning. Either out would have been pivotal. The next batter, right fielder Craig Monroe, crushed the first pitch he saw, a 92-mph fastball, 351 feet over the left-center-field wall for a two-run homer. "He's a Hall of Famer, and anytime you can have success against a guy like that, it feels good," Monroe said. It was the Big Unit's first appearance at the Metrodome in almost 13 years. Most players seemed awestruck to have batted against him. Morneau, who had never before faced Johnson, sounded as though it was something he would never forget. "It's fun, probably I'll be telling my kids that I got to face him and got a hit off him," Morneau said. Morneau wasn't in the lineup when the team faced Johnson in 2005. It didn't sound as though he was too disappointed by that, however. "I'm glad I didn't have to face him when he threw 10 mph harder, because that's pretty nasty the way it was," Morneau said. "It's a good thing that I used to sit back in those days." The Twins tacked on another run in the fourth inning, giving Baker more security than he needed. The right-hander went six innings, striking out seven and allowing only one earned run. "Baker was OK, he pitched uphill pretty much all [game]," Gardenhire said. "He was collapsing on his backside, the ball was going up." Gardenhire said after the game that it "wasn't one of his best performances." Baker didn't disagree, but he danced out of trouble when he had to, using a bevy of breaking pitches, most notably his curveball and slider. "You never see him get rattled out there, he throws strikes and he gives us a chance to win," Morneau said. "I think everyone feeds off that." Baker was actually outlasted by Johnson, who improbably threw an eight-inning complete game after allowing all seven of his earned runs in the first four innings. The big lefty gave up 11 hits while striking out only one. Every Twins starter reached base against Johnson, and only designated hitter Mike Redmond did not get a hit off him. The game started on a light-hearted note when exuberant young center fielder Carlos Gomez tripped while running out to his defensive post when the club was taking the field. Gomez quickly gathered himself off the ground and continued his journey into the outfield. Gardenhire recalled the scene after the game: "Here comes the Minnesota Twins ... Kaboom! A good start to the night."
Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.