Souhan: The return engagement of the M&M Boys

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2012 - 9:21 PM

Target Field was designed with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in mind. It was built with a short right field fence to frame and enable their expected home runs, and a pathway beyond the right field fence down which you could imagine a Morneau blast hopping until it reached Kieran's courtyard.

It was built with extensive exercise and physical therapy rooms behind the clubhouse to keep them healthy, as the M&M Boys became men. It was built to pay their salaries and those of the teammates with which the Twins would surround their two franchise players.

It was built in anticipation of Mauer and Morneau winning championships and awards, and yet until Thursday afternoon, during the 166th home game in the limestone castle in downtown Minneapolis, they had never before homered in the same game at Target Field.

They heard jeers in the third inning, when Mauer popped to third and Morneau flied to right and they left the bases loaded, and the Twins trailed the Angels 5-0, and M&M still seemed to stand for Mending and Melancholy.

The score was 6-0, and the Twins were facing another series loss when Mauer came to the plate in the fifth. There were runners on first and second with nobody out, and while no one booed, you could sense restlessness in the crowd.

Two pitches later, Mauer turned on an inside fastball cutting toward his hands from Angels righthander Dan Haren and hit his second home run at Target Field, and first since Aug. 18, 2010.

Morneau was 0-for-4 when he came to the plate with Mauer on first base and nobody out in the eighth and the Twins trailing 7-6. Righthanded reliever Rich Thompson threw a high pitch and Morneau swung at it as if he were trying to remove cobwebs from a chandelier.

"I looked at [hitting coach] Joe Vavra and said, 'He's trying to hit an eight-run homer here, and we only need two,'" Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Next pitch, he crushed it, and I said, 'We'll take that one.'"

Morneau's familiar, violent swing sent the ball into the second deck in right. The Twins would erase a 6-0 deficit and win 10-9, with Mauer and Morneau getting the big hits, making it feel like old times in a new place.

"We need Mauer and Morneau," Gardenhire said. "We built this ballpark around those two. You play this game like we did last year without those two, you don't really know what you're missing until they start playing and producing like they're capable of when they're healthy.

"A lot has been said about their situations, but let's just enjoy them while they're out there. That's what I'm doing. Enjoying every minute."

So is Morneau. He has been blunt about his setbacks, and fears, as he has waded through the fog of postconcussion syndrome. Late Thursday afternoon, standing in front of his locker with eye black still obscuring his cheekbones, he beamed.

"Yeah, that was great," he said. "That feeling when it comes off the bat and you know that it's gone, there's nothing like that in baseball, that's for sure. That was one of those, and it rarely happens. In the moment, the situation, that makes it even better."

He hadn't homered in a big-league game since May 31. He was reminded of that blissful instant when a power hitter makes contact and knows before the sound has a chance to travel to the ears of fans that the ball will not land in the playing field.

"It almost feels effortless," he said. "You don't have that resistance; it just hits the sweet spot, as they call it, and it feels like it just jumps off of there. It doesn't have any vibration or anything. It just feels good."

After 165 games in Target Field, the M&M Boys did what was expected all along.

"We've both missed a lot of time the last couple of years," Mauer said. "But this is good. Hopefully we can do that a lot more."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib.

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