Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.

Nathan wins critical faceoff between old friends

Posted by: Phil Miller under MLB Updated: April 25, 2013 - 11:53 PM

Joe Nathan had faced Justin Morneau only twice before, yet he realizes that few hitters know more about his pitches and his patterns than the Twins' first baseman, who watched from over the closer's shoulder as he piled up most of his 260 saves as a Twin. So their third career confrontation, with Morneau leading off the ninth inning against Nathan, who was trying to protect Texas' 2-1 lead, was even more of a chess match than the usual pitcher-vs.-batter give-and-take.

"I'm just trying give him different looks, trying to keep him guessing," Nathan said. "You have to, so the next time, he can't sit on one pitch."

Lesson learned -- for Morneau.

Nathan started the at-bat out with a 90-mph fastball for a strike, then threw a curve and another fastball outside the zone, hoping Morneau would reach for one of them. He didn't, and Nathan was behind 2-1. He risked another fastball closer to the outside corner, and Morneau fouled it off.

Nathan tried his slider, normally his out pitch, but Morneau got a bat on it again. Then the closer had to put himself in Morneau's place. What would he be looking for?

"He's seen me so many times, he knows that regardless of what I've done in previous sequences, I'll still go to a slider," Nathan said. "So he was probably looking for something soft."

Instead, Nathan fired the hardest pitch of the sequence, a 92-mph fastball, and put it in the perfect spot -- knee-high, outside corner. Morneau froze. Umpire Dan Bellino rang him up.

"A big at-bat," Nathan said. Is trying to outthink such a good hitter fun, he was asked.

"It is when you get him out," Nathan said with a smile.


 

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