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Jim Souhan: Morneau's bat gives offense some big teeth

  • Article by: Jim Souhan
  • Star Tribune
  • July 7, 2007 - 9:15 AM

CHICAGO -- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was emerging from his postgame news conference late Friday night when he spotted Justin Morneau ducking out of the Twins clubhouse.

The Twins had just outscored the Sox 32-14 in a doubleheader sweep, and Morneau had just become the first Twins player in 34 years to hit three homers in a game. Guillen paused, nodded at the muscular first baseman and, remembering the nickname he gave the team's short-and-scrappy players a year ago, amended his impression of Minnesota baseball.

"They're not piranhas no more," Guillen said. "They're a shark attack now."

Friday, Morneau was the lead land shark, and White Sox pitching was his chum. In the Twins' 12-0 victory in the nightcap, Morneau became the fourth Twin to hit three home runs in a game.

Morneau batted in the eighth inning and, in an attempt to become the first Twin ever to hit four in a game, flied out to left.

"That was fun," Morneau said, wearing his tattered Todd Bertuzzi jersey and a big grin. "I've never done that before in my life."

Never hit three in Little League? Never had a hat trick in hockey? "I gave up three goals plenty of times," he said.

Morneau clearly had homer No. 4 on his mind in the eighth. His first swing against Chicago lefthander Matt Thornton threatened to dislocate both of his shoulders.

"You could tell by my first swing I was thinking about it," Morneau said. "But then I started thinking about [Saturday], facing Mark Buehrle, I better not get out of whack. [Thornton] actually gave me a pitch to hit, and I didn't get it. It was still a good day."

One prompted by reminders of his past success. Needing one home run to reach 100 for his career, Morneau went 13 games without one until Friday.

Team video manager Sean Harlin made Morneau a recording of his extra-base hits of 2007, when he became the American League Most Valuable Player. Morneau watched it Thursday night.

"Sean told me to tell [Twins General Manager] Terry Ryan that he made that tape," Morneau said. "I told him Terry would ask why he didn't make it two months ago."

Morneau is both superstitious and aware of milestones. "I would think about it any time I got into a 2-and-0 count," he said. "It took a long time to get to 100."

Still, Morneau reached 100 homers faster than all but two other Twins -- Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison.

Morneau will compete in the Home Run Derby on Monday at the All-Star Game in San Francisco. Fellow Canadian slugger Larry Walker was unavailable to pitch to him during the contest. Perhaps Morneau should pick White Sox starter Gavin Floyd, who gave up Morneau's first two homers.

After the game, Morneau met a fan who caught one of his homers and traded autographs for the baseball. Guillen walked over and jokingly asked the fan, "Why would you want anything from him?"

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire couldn't have asked for much more Friday. He won a doubleheader, saw Morneau regain his power stroke and -- perhaps more important -- saw two pivotal young players have big days.

Outfielder Jason Kubel went 4-for-7 with two sacrifice flies and two walks on the day, driving in a career-high seven runs in the first game. If he can become a productive No. 7 hitter behind Torii Hunter, the Twins will have a lineup worthy of the American League.

And top pitching prospect Matt Garza dominated for six innings in the nightcap, striking out six and displaying a dazzling array of pitches.

Morneau slugging, Kubel emerging, Garza dominating -- it all led to Gardenhire earning his 500th career victory and Morneau steaming past his own milestone and impressing Guillen anew.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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