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Someone forgot to tell the veterans.
The M&M boys, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, gave the youngsters a demo Sunday on what September baseball can be. In their heyday, Mauer nearly hitting for the cycle and Morneau’s multi-home run game would’ve given each a chit towards an(other) MVP award. This year, it meant a satisfying 8-7 win over Cleveland in a beautiful, if half-filled, ballpark.
The fans at the game deserved everything they got. Not only did they abstain from the Vikings home opener across town, but they stuck around for 3 hours and 30 minutes to watch the ninth-inning, two-out blast by Morneau. And while the weather was gorgeous, there were aspects of the game that were far from it.
By now, we should all recognize a sentence like that last one is going to lead to talk of the Twins starting rotation. And it is. Today’s punching bag was Esmerling Vasquez, making his second start since being recalled from Rochester. He lasted only three innings, throwing 68 pitches and giving up five walks before his manager seemingly grew tired of him. Esmerling has now walked 8 in 8.2 IP which matches his reputation before he seemingly found some control in AAA late this year. Whatever he had previously found sure seems lost now. So does he.
But the top of the order looked locked in. Trailing 4-0 entering the bottom of the third, Jamey Carroll singled, and Mauer followed with a triple before Justin Morneau hit his first home run. In the fourth inning, the Twins used their speed, stealing three bases en route to taking a 5-4 lead.
The Indians responded in the top of the fifth, taking a 6-5 lead, but the Twins rallied again in the bottom of the seventh. Mauer doubled driving Carroll to third base. Morneau was wisely walked, which loaded the bases. Ryan Doumit struck out for the second out, but left-handed hitting Chris Parmelee’s ground ball found it’s way through the right side of the infield, plating two and giving the Twins a 7-6 lead.
However, again the Indians responded. Twins reliever Jared Burton hit Brent Lillibridge with a pitch and then watched him round the bases two pitches later on a triple by Jason McDonald. With the help of Brian Duensing, the Twins escaped the inning without giving up the lead run, which led to Morneau’s ninth inning heroics.
Morneau’s health struggles, which have defined his last two seasons (and last two offseasons) seem to be behind him for now. Since the All-Star break, he is hitting .321 with a .369 on-base percentage and .512 slugging percentage. That’s an 881 OPS, which exceeds his career mark and falls squarely in the production levels he posted from 2006 through 2010. Welcome back, big guy.
The Twins are using September to look ahead to 2013. Morneau’s game today should remind them – and the fans – that he can still be part of that future. He certainly showed he's part of the present.
The Twins season is winding down, and that means the end of the minor league season too.
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