Morneau hits his stride early in Florida

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 26, 2013 - 6:33 AM

Justin Morneau hit a three-run double against the Pirates on Monday.

Photo: David Goldman, Associated Press

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FORT MYERS, FLA. — Justin Morneau doubled home three runs on Monday, and it wouldn't have happened if he wasn't Canadian.

With the bases loaded in the fourth inning, Morneau pounded a Jeanmar Gomez fastball into the left-center field gap, driving home Jamey Carroll, Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham. That, and a tie-breaking eighth-inning RBI double by Morneau's replacement, Chris Colabello, were the big hits in Minnesota's first win of the spring, 5-4 over Pittsburgh in Hammond Stadium.

That Morneau was even in the lineup is a credit to Morneau's patriotism, because playing back-to-back games is unheard of for veterans like him. But the former MVP is in final preparations for next month's World Baseball Classic, where he will represent his Canadian homeland against Italy, Mexico and the United States in the first round.

"Mentally, I'm a little more prepared right now, because I know I have big games coming up in a week," said Morneau, who in his first at-bat lined a rocket that Pirates first baseman, and ex-Twin, Garrett Jones turned into a double play. "Six innings yesterday, five innings today -- it's a lot. .... But it's very important to be ready when we go there and play playoff-type baseball for your country."

Colabello is going, too, to represent his father's homeland of Italy, and he also looks well prepared. A day after driving in the tying run with a ninth-inning single and forcing extra innings, the nonroster hopeful prevented extra innings by slicing a long double to right-center in the eighth, scoring Brandon Boggs from first to break a 4-4 tie.

Morneau, one of 13 Twins headed to the WBC, will continue his preparations by playing a third straight game Tuesday, and it comes with even more stress: a two-hour bus ride to face the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., where he will undoubtedly face plenty of questions from the Canadian media about his recent comment that it would be "cool" to play in Canada. But Morneau is locked in -- and Ron Gardenhire has proof.

After posting a lineup for Tuesday that includes Morneau as designated hitter, the Twins manager got a text message from his Canadian slugger: "Can't I play first base?"


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