Morneau endures gentle pounding after walkoff HR

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2012 - 10:38 PM

After hitting his second homer of the game, the slugger had one firm rule: "Don't hit me in the head."

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With each passing day, Justin Morneau grows more confident his concussion issues are behind him, but Sunday brought another test -- surviving the celebration that comes after hitting a game-ending home run.

Morneau's second homer of the day and 19th of the season was a laser beam off Vinnie Pestano that stayed just inside the right-field foul pole, giving the Twins an 8-7 victory over Cleveland at Target Field.

The Twins gathered around home plate to greet Morneau and gave him a slight pounding, as everyone jumped up and down. Then, during Morneau's postgame television interview, two teammates doused him with a cooler of ice water.

"All I was thinking about when I was coming down third was, 'Don't hit me in the head,'" Morneau said. "That's why I took my helmet off. I took a pretty good head butt from [Chris Parmelee], and a cooler in the back of the neck. But other than that, it was fun. If I can stand up to that, I think it'll be all right."

It was Morneau's fifth career game-ending homer but his first since June 17, 2007, at the Metrodome. This one capped a 3-hour, 26-minute game that included three lead changes. Twins CEO Jim Pohlad's annual team party was planned for 6 p.m., so everyone was getting a little antsy.

"I think we were all ready," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've got a party to go to. I told [Morneau] that right before he went up there. You can print that. It sounds better."

The Twins can't help but feel good for Morneau, who suffered season-ending concussions each of the past two seasons. Last year, he had as many surgeries as home runs (four).

This year, he has played in 116 games, the most since 2009, when he played in 135. He spent 15 days on the disabled list in May because of a sore left wrist, but otherwise he's been healthy.

Morneau is batting .277 with a .337 on-base percentage and .473 slugging percentage -- numbers that aren't far from his career slash line of .281/.351/.494. At midseason, he cut back on his weightlifting again to save wear and tear on the wrist.

"I had to back off a little bit, just to try to have something left for the month of September," he said.

On Sunday, he showed the power is still there. Cleveland's Carlos Santana hit a 426-foot home run in the second inning out near the Twins Tower in right field, and an inning later, Morneau answered with a 434-foot blast near the same spot.

"That was a bomb," Gardenhire said.

The Twins found themselves in a slugfest after Cleveland jumped to a 4-0 lead against starter Esmerling Vasquez. Minnesota went ahead 5-4 and fell behind 6-5 before regaining the lead on Chris Parmelee's two-out, two-run single in the seventh.

Cleveland tied the score in the eighth against Jared Burton, but Morneau got one more chance against Pestano. The pitcher jammed Morneau on Friday night with an inside fastball, resulting in a weak popup to third base. Pestano tried that same pitch, and Morneau drilled it.

Then his teammates lined up to celebrate.

"I was trying to crush him," third baseman Trevor Plouffe said. "I was too excited not to. He's a big guy; he can handle it."

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