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07/29/08 1:55 AM ET
Span helps send Twins past White Sox
Rookie's first home run edges club closer to division leaders
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau was talking to rookie Denard Span prior to Monday's series opener against the White Sox when the conversation turned to a topic the Twins first baseman knows a little something about -- home runs. Span seemed determine to erase the zero in his homer column, having already played 34 games at the Major League level without one. "I told him he didn't really need to worry about hitting homers," Morneau said. It seems like Span had other ideas in mind. In a series pitting the top two teams in the American League Central, it was Span's first career Major League home run that helped catapult the Twins to a 7-0 victory over the White Sox. The win helped the second-place Twins gain ground in the race, dwindling Chicago's lead to just 1 1/2 games. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tried to stack his lineup with as many right-handers as were available to face White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle, who has been one of the toughest pitchers for the Twins to face. The left-hander came into Monday's contest with a career 21-11 record and 3.78 ERA against Minnesota. But while the Twins were looking to their right-handers to shut down the crafty lefty, it was a brigade of lefties that got to him as Minnesota tagged Buehrle for five runs -- four earned -- over five innings. When the Twins recalled Span on June 30, the outfielder had hit just .174 off left-handed pitching. It's been a 180-degree change since he returned to the Twins. He entered the series opener against the White Sox batting .400 off lefties. So it only seemed fitting that his first Major League long ball came off a southpaw when he belted a two-run homer off Buehrle in the third inning. Following Nick Punto's one-out infield single, Span belted the first pitch from Buehrle. The towering shot hit just above the football press box that sits in right-center field. The emotion of the moment came out as Span yelled a "Whoo" as he rounded the bases. "I was just pumped up, man -- 30,000 fans here -- and we are trying to catch the Chicago White Sox. My first home run, in this atmosphere, to get us on the board -- I was definitely fired up." Span's homer was part of a pair of two-run homers in the inning. The other was hit by Morneau, helping the Twins vault out to a 4-0 lead. Alexi Casilla drew a walk before Morneau came to the plate with two outs in the inning. Morneau belted a 1-2 pitch from Buehrle deep to center field. But Morneau said with the way center fielder Nick Swisher was tracking the ball, he wasn't sure if he had hit it well enough to get out. Swisher couldn't find the ball -- or his glove -- after the play. As Swisher tried unsuccessfully to track down Morneau's ball at the wall, his glove got caught on it and flung back into the unused seats behind the 408-foot mark on the fence. "I saw his glove go flying -- thought that was interesting," Morneau said. Two home runs for the Twins, who have hit just 73 on the season, equated to the club out-homering the power-hitting White Sox, who lead the American League in homers with 143. "We don't expect to out-homer them," Morneau said. "They have a lot more than we do. But we'll take it." The early offense was a big bonus, considering the way starter Kevin Slowey was pitching for Minnesota. After delivering his worst outing of the season, allowing eight runs on 10 hits over just three innings in a loss at Chicago on June 8, Slowey rebounded in his next start against the White Sox. He pitched his second career complete-game shutout, scattering six hits and striking out five. "He grew up a bit tonight, using all of his pitches against a very good hitting team," Gardenhire said. It marked Slowey's first quality start since June 29 against the Brewers, which ironically also was a complete game shutout. However, this shutout almost was erased in the fourth inning when Jermaine Dye hit a towering shot down the left-field line. It initially was ruled a home run by third-base umpire Bill Welke, but after Gardenhire ran out to argue the call, the umpires met and changed the ruling. With the home run erased, Slowey (7-7) went back to commanding the strike zone, which only improved over the course of his outing. "They've been swinging the bats well all year," Slowey said of the White Sox. "Our approach going into the game was to keep the ball low and let the defense work behind me. That was pretty much it, and I think we were able to do that." Morneau added another RBI in the fifth on a single to center. The Twins then added two runs in the eighth on Brendan Harris' double to left. Slowey's last rough start against Chicago was part of an embarrassing series for the Twins against their rivals. The club was outscored, 40-15, in a four-game sweep at Chicago, and Gardenhire later described the road trip as likely his worst with the Twins. That's, in part, why this victory in the first game of a four-game series meant so much to Minnesota. "It was big, especially the way they got us at their place," Morneau said. "You have to remember we have three left, and if we don't come out tomorrow and play with the same intensity, tonight won't mean a whole lot because we'll be right back where we started."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.