Part of the game summary from the eighth inning of the Twins’ 8-2 victory over Detroit on Thursday includes this short phrase: Justin Morneau walks. That fails to capture the essence of how the Twins broke open the game.
It should read: Justin Morneau refuses to wilt under the heat of several 95-miles-per-hour fastballs and wears down the opposing pitcher.
With the Twins clinging to a one-run lead late in the game, Morneau won a lengthy battle with Tigers righthander Brayan Villarreal and drew a walk to set up a five-run inning that put Detroit away for good and helped the Twins win two of the three games of the season-opening series.
“Getting that walk was huge,” right fielder Chris Parmelee said.
“It sets the tone, no doubt about it,” designated hitter Ryan Doumit said.
With the score 3-2 and one out in the eighth, Morneau dug in against Villarreal, whose fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s.
Ball, strike, ball, strike, ball. Morneau hadn’t attempted to swing as the count ran full. Villarreal threw a 95-mph fastball that Morneau fouled off. Villarreal then tried a slider that was fouled off. Villarreal went back to his 95-mph heater, and Morneau fouled it straight back.
Fastball … fouled off. Slider … fouled off. Morneau finally took the 11th pitch of the at-bat — a 95-mph fastball — for ball four.
“You get to two strikes and you just try to battle and stay alive,” Morneau said. “I fouled off a couple pitches that I thought I should have hit. It ended up being a good at-bat with a walk.
“He gets out of it, I think it is a big boost for him. If he walks me, it’s a big boost [for us].”
The Twins were fired up by the battle. Doumit grounded a double down the left field line. Trevor Plouffe lined out to second for the second out, but Parmelee got an RBI infield single off Prince Fielder’s glove at first base. It was 4-2.
Jamey Carroll walked, then Pedro Florimon blooped a two-run double down the left field line to make the score 6-2. Aaron Hicks followed with his first major league hit, a line single to right, driving in two to make the score 8-2.
Righthander Mike Pelfrey, making his first start since April 21 of last year after Tommy John surgery, went 5⅓ innings to get the victory.
Villarreal gave up five earned runs in the eighth inning on 37 pitches.
“If you see someone fighting off good pitches like that, it amps you up,” Doumit said. “[Morneau] set the bar pretty high with an at-bat like that. The guys hitting behind him want to have a good at-bat as well.
“And, obviously, it makes the pitcher throw more pitchers.’’