Morneau powers Twins past Jays

Morneau powers Twins past Jays

MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau has started to rack up his share of awards over the past year.

One thing he proved Sunday is that he likely won't ever win an award for his sliding skills.

It was a new look Morneau that helped the Twins squeeze out just enough runs to pull off a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays and their talented right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Sure, Morneau delivered his 15th home run of the season as part of a 2-for-3 day at the plate, but it was his piranha-esque skills that drew most of the attention from his teammates.

That's because Morneau showed a side of himself that many hadn't seen before. One that delivers chop hits off home plate and slides head first into first base, much like his teammate Nick Punto. Well, that is if you can call what Morneau did a slide.

"That was really a belly flop onto first base not a dive," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't know what it was, but it was really ugly."

The less-than-beautiful slide came in the third inning with the Twins trailing 1-0. The bases were loaded when Morneau stepped to the plate after Punto led off the inning with a single and Burnett issued back-to-back, two-out walks to Jeff Cirillo and Michael Cuddyer.

Already a bit hobbled after taking a 96 mph pitch to his right shin in the second inning, Morneau chopped a ball off home plate and began his sprint to first base. While Burnett tried to barehand the ball and make a quick throw to first, Morneau made the split-second decision to slide, er, flop onto the top of the base. One run scored as Morneau safely reached first and another came home due to Burnett's errant throw.

The chuckles from the Twins dugout began almost immediately with second baseman Luis Castillo, who is known for his trademark choppers, seeming to get the most enjoyment out of the display. But even Morneau had to admit afterward that although he was trying not to aggravate his already injured leg, the slide likely wasn't the best idea.

"That was ugly," Morneau said with a laugh. "But we'll take it."

Morneau's highly rare infield single was one of just three hits that Burnett would give up on the day.

There had been questions as to how the Twins might respond following an emotionally draining loss in 13 innings to the Blue Jays just the previous night. A challenge made more difficult due to the fact the club was facing Burnett. The Twins had seen the right-hander just one time last season and he allowed only one earned run over seven innings in that start.

And Burnett had his way with the club for the majority of this game. The right-hander allowed just those three hits over eight innings, including two to Morneau, and managed to toss a complete game, despite throwing a total of 124 pitches.

Yet it was the Twins ability to capitalize on Burnett's few mistakes that proved to be the biggest key. That includes the pitch that Morneau blasted 433 feet into the right-field upper deck in the sixth inning to give Minnesota a 4-1 lead.

"I think a very good win for this baseball team coming back after a night like last night," Gardenhire said. "Coming off a back and forth, draining baseball game to beat a pitcher of that caliber on the other side is pretty big for this club."

It was more than just a few critical hits that helped the Twins to a victory. After the Twins used all seven of their relievers in a 13-inning loss the previous evening, Carlos Silva delivered the long start that the club was desperately seeking for its taxed bullpen.

In his two previous starts, Silva (3-5) had resorted to using his off-speed pitches for nearly half of his pitch count. The coaching staff had wanted him to get back to using his sinker and that's exactly what he did, pitching 7 1/3 innings and allowing two runs on six hits to pick up his first win since April 28 in Detroit.

"I just try to pitch my game," Silva said. "I think the last two games I was throwing too many off pitches. Today I was trusting my sinker a little more and letting it do the work. I had a lot of ground balls and success in the game."

Still, even Silva admitted afterward that his biggest thrill did not come from the ovation he received when walking off the field but in seeing Morneau crush the ball into the seats.

The Twins first baseman has started to catch fire at the plate after a slow start to the year. He extended his season-high hit streak to 10 games on Sunday. During his hitting streak, Morneau has batted .350 with four home runs and 17 RBIs.

The start of the Morneau's turnaround seemed to coincide with getting his nose broken in a game against the Tigers on May 12. The break occurred when a throw from Punto took an odd hop off the turf and struck Morneau directly on his nose. But it was after that freak accident that it seemed Morneau finally started to produce key hits with runners in scoring position.

So is there some coincidence to that?

"I guess it's been a lot better since then," Morneau said. "Maybe I should thank Punto for that -- teaching me how to slide and breaking my nose."

Well, maybe not so much the slide part.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.