Justin Morneau hadn't hit a homer in 68 plate appearances when he came to bat in the first inning Sunday. His drought had caused all sorts of little-known problems.
When Morneau doesn't homer:
• It takes his teammates five hits, two steals, a wild pitch and a catcher's interference ruling to score.
• Joe Mauer, in mourning, stops trimming his sideburns and winds up looking like Vegas Elvis. He also stops letting Morneau listen to Classic Canadian Rock -- such as Bachman Turner Overdrive, and ... Bachman Turner Overdrive -- on their rides to the ballpark.
• The Twins stink.
Of course, only two of those three items, including the last one, are true.
When Morneau homers, the Twins are 13-3, and two of those three losses came in New York, where the Yankees have filed an injunction against Twins victories. When Morneau doesn't homer, the Twins are 26-35 -- or, to put that into painful context, they are the Royals.
Sunday, Morneau ripped a three-run homer in the first inning. Not coincidentally, his team won. What was most interesting about his home run, though, was how he prepared himself to hit it.
He spent Friday's game, and all but his last at-bat Saturday, eliminating the stride from his swing. This is what is so difficult about playing every day, as Morneau does -- trying to make mechanical adjustments during games without hurting a team that is so obviously dependent upon him.
"The last couple of days, he's gone with the no-stride approach just to corral the strike zone,'' said hitting coach Joe Vavra. "He worked a few walks, so I think he started feeling the zone and his timing a little bit, and today he went with a stride, and he was able to minimize it.''
Almost all of Morneau's slumps are caused by the most admirable flaw an athlete can possess: He cares too much. When he tries to carry the team, he swings too hard and at pitches too far from his power zone, and he gets himself out. "Most of the time, that's it,'' he said. "If the team isn't playing well, or I'm not driving in runs like I'm used to, I try to do too much instead of just being patient and taking my walks and trusting my teammates. I don't need to do more than my share. Sometimes you lose sight of that when you're struggling.''
"Struggling'' is a relative term. When Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert struggle, they have trouble hitting Miley Cyrus' weight. When Morneau "struggles,'' he enters a game, as he did Sunday, hitting .310 with 16 homers and 58 RBI.
"It is funny,'' said outfielder Michael Cuddyer. "I was telling the guys I've never seen a guy hitting .310, .320 who wants to totally change the way he uses his lower half.
"He's always trying to improve, and you can't ever get mad at a guy for doing that.''
While his buddy Mauer is metronomic, Morneau is volcanic. He fumes, then explodes.
Usually, Morneau takes a long stride that precedes his remarkably quick cut. "Going without the stride reminded me that I have a way that I hit, and that it feels comfortable,'' Morneau said. "See, what I was trying to do was stop myself from getting out in front so much. I was trying to remind myself to stay back. I looked at stuff from when I was going well and tried to get back to where I feel comfortable.''
Morneau and Mauer have each taken a day off in the past eight days, and each time the Twins lost, and each time their lineup looked like a satire of the NL Central.
The Twins are more dependent on the M&M Boys than they would like to admit.
"Justin puts a lot of expectations on himself,'' Vavra said. "But he's learned how to handle it a little bit more. He went to the no-stride approach, and I won't say he was giving up at-bats, but he was giving at-bats toward disciplining himself.
"It's nice to see a player take it upon himself to make those adjustments, and know that his at-bats today might help him in the weeks to come.''
Sunday, Morneau took a big stride and hit a big home run, and all that fiddling earlier in the weekend suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. email@example.com