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Twins: Feeling is back, big-time

  • Article by: La Velle E. Neal III
  • Star Tribune
  • July 16, 2007 - 11:47 PM

Torii Hunter's smile grew broader on Sunday as the good memories from 2003 returned.

"I made a diving play in the ninth inning," Hunter said. "Eddie Guardado was pitching. Oh yeah, I remember that like yesterday. It was Oakland, too."

At that point, it was an easy comparison to Sunday's 4-3 victory over Oakland. In 2003, the Twins blew out of the gates at the All-Star break by sweeping Oakland in a four-game series at the Dome, highlighted by Hunter's incredible, game-ending, diving catch.

On Sunday, the Twins completed a four-game sweep of Oakland, again, to go six games over .500 for the first time this season. The 2003 Twins devoured a 7½-game lead by Kansas City at the break. This year, they've already cut an eight-game lead by Detroit to six, stirring up familiar emotions within Hunter.

"I kind of got that feeling right now," Hunter said. "We came through with a sweep, and all you can do is build off of that. What we did last year, I think we're building off that, too. And you can see that intensity."

Their mission is to prove that they can be comeback kings once again, like they were in 2003 and like last year, when they chewed up an 11-game deficit at the break to win the division on the final day of the season.

The way they finished off the sweep on Sunday, in front of an announced crowd of 36,737, had the Twins' confidence at a season high as they wait for Detroit to come to town Tuesday for a massive three-game series.

"We expect to make the playoffs," said third baseman Nick Punto, who contributed with a two-run triple in the fourth inning. "That's how we are. That's the kind of team we are."

The Twins trailed 3-2 in the eighth until Justin Morneau pounded a pitch from righthander Santiago Casilla into the upper deck in right, tying the score. Casilla entered the game with a 0.43 ERA. Morneau had grounded out meekly to first baseman Nick Swisher in his three previous at-bats.

"He could have handled all those ground balls without a glove," Morneau said. "It's one of those things where you have to be strong enough mentally to not let it get to you. The only at-bat that matters in the one right there."

The Twins, who were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position Sunday, stranded two runners, ending the inning. But Luis Castillo, batting righthanded against lefthanded Joe Kennedy leading off the ninth, drove a ball into the left-center gap. Suddenly, Castillo's perpetually sore knees and hip weren't a problem as he legged out a triple and began yelling and pumping his fists at a fired-up Twins dugout.

"I tell these guys, sometimes I hit a ground ball right to second base, shortstop, and I don't run hard, so I got reserve when I need to do it," he said.

Jason Bartlett walked. Joe Mauer, on Joe Mauer bat day, bounced a single through the A's pulled-in infield to score Castillo with the game-winner and hand Oakland its seventh consecutive loss.

Michael Cuddyer rushed to home plate and lifted Castillo into the air. The rest of the team rushed out for the ritual of pounding the heroes on top of their helmets, a common occurrence last season during The Comeback.

"We have to keep it going." Morneau said. "You can't be satisfied with winning just four games."

La Velle E. Neal III •

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