Want a fresh, piping-hot reason to hate the Yankees?
I've got one for you. Mark Teixeira, whose batting average has dipped into Brendan Harris territory, has opened a huge lead over Justin Morneau at first base in All-Star voting. This is the most confusing development in America since a certain television show seemingly based on science fiction, mythology, sociology and literary history was resolved with an episode dedicated to hugging and kissing.
Over the course of their careers, Morneau and Teixeira have been similar players -- productive power hitters who have become excellent first basemen. This year, though, there has been no comparison. Teixeira has slumped, while Morneau has reestablished himself as one of the elite players in the game.
After walking in the first inning on Tuesday night against the Yankees, Morneau had reached in 13 of his previous 15 plate appearances. Entering the game, he led the American League in average (.363), on-base percentage (.497) and slugging percentage (.701). While playing in a ballpark that has robbed him of at least a handful of extra-base hits, he had produced 11 homers and 34 RBI.
Tuesday, he drew a walk in his first plate appearance. In his second, he lifted a towering fly to right that died on the warning track. In the Metrodome that ball would have caromed off or crested the baggie.
Earlier in the season, in a game against the White Sox, Morneau hit a ball as hard as he has in his career, and it died in deep center.
Does that bother him?
"Yeah," he said. "I mean, we're a team with a lot of experienced, quality hitters, and you want to be able to feel like we can hit that big three-run homer when we need it. This team is built around that.
"The one that got me, against the White Sox, that ball I hit off Joe Thornton ... the guy is throwing 97, I square it up, I feel like the ball should leave, I feel like it should be a 5-4 game after that, and then if we can get one on in the ninth we can tie it up.
"Instead, that ball gets caught, we're down 5-2 going into the ninth and we have to score three off their closer. This team is built more for the three-run homer than for hitting balls into the gap for doubles and triples.
"We'll see what happens. We haven't had a long stretch where it's been 80-plus degrees to see if the ball is going to carry. And any day, coming here is better than playing in the dome."
Morneau might have had more home runs in the Metrodome, but he'd have had more trouble jogging around the bases. "Torii [Hunter] told me once that we got off that turf you'd feel a difference," Morneau said. "He said it took him about a full year for his body to recover, and then the next year he felt great. Right now, in the middle of a homestand, normally I'd be dying, but my body feels good."
After seeing his 2009 season end because of back problems, Morneau has learned to scale back his pregame workload, taking fewer swings and saving his strength. The result: Morneau, a former MVP, is playing the best, most intelligent baseball of his career.
"I feel good," he said. "My body feels good. My focus is good. It's kind of everything where you want it to be. We're playing in front of 38, 39 thousand every night. We're in first place. We have a team that's capable of winning, and we have a team that we feel is capable of going deep into the playoffs.
"I'm healthy and I feel like I'm contributing. It's a good feeling."
An awkward fielder when he debuted, Morneau has become remarkably deft at first, especially when starting double plays, thanks to countless hours spent with former Twins coach Al Newman and former manager Tom Kelly.
"Usually, at spring training, TK would go out there with five of six guys," Morneau said. "With me, I was out there alone with him, every day. His attention to detail is incredible."
Morneau's ain't so bad, either. He's never taken better at-bats or made more plays in the field, and if the Target Field wind currents become friendlier, he could be on his way to another MVP. Even if he can't start for the American League at first base.
Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. email@example.com