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Morneau helps Twins solve Halladay

Morneau, Twins solve Halladay

TORONTO -- It seemed like the most unenviable of tasks for the Twins.

With wins needed in each of the final two contests against the Blue Jays to capture the series victory, the club's first test came on Wednesday night against Toronto's ace, Roy Halladay.

Halladay had never lost to the Twins, going 8-0 in 12 career appearances (10 starts) against the club. Minnesota, in fact, was the only American League team that had never beaten him.

But at a time when their postseason hopes are barely being kept alive, entering the day 6 1/2 games back of the Tigers in the AL Central race, the Twins know that almost every game is a must-win. And on Wednesday night, they were finally able to do what they had not done before -- beat Halladay.

Solo home runs by Orlando Cabrera and Justin Morneau off Halladay, combined with a stellar pitching performance by starter Carl Pavano to help lift the Twins to a 4-1 victory before a crowd of 11,159 at Rogers Centre.

"All the numbers didn't match up," Morneau said of the Twins' chances of winning heading into the contest. "It's huge for us to go out and beat him and keep our hopes alive. We're a pretty far ways back. We haven't been eliminated yet, so we're just going to keep fighting. If we want to do it, then we have to beat guys like that."

Coming off a one-hitter against the Yankees, Halladay looked to be the same dominating pitcher in this contest. He didn't allow a run through his first five innings and struck out four of five Twins batters during one stretch in the contest.

But in the sixth, Cabrera led off the inning by belting a 1-0 pitch from Halladay over the Blue Jays bullpen in left field. It snapped a streak of 222 at-bats without a home run for Minnesota, dating back to Sept. 1, and knotted the game at one.

Yet it was another home run drought coming to an end that was perhaps the biggest hit of the night. In the top of the eighth inning with two outs, Morneau drilled the first pitch from Halladay (14-9) deep into the seats in right-center field to give Minnesota its first lead, 2-1. It was also the first baseman's 30th home run of the season and his 100th RBI, and snapped his streak of 51 at-bats without a homer.

"It's been awhile," Morneau said of his homer. "I've been struggling for awhile. Hopefully it's something that gets me going and gets us going. We're still in this race. We still have a chance. Maybe one big hit can get us going in the right direction."

The win helped pull the Twins to within 5 1/2 games of Detroit following the Tigers' loss in Kansas City with 23 games left in the season for Minnesota.

Taking advantage of Halladay's mistakes was critical for the Twins, but the majority of the credit was given to the pitching performance delivered by Pavano. In a game played before the smallest crowd in the 20-year history of Rogers Centre, fans who were in attendance got treated to a classic pitching duel as Pavano matched Halladay's effort.

The right-hander held the Blue Jays to just one run on six hits over his 7 1/3 innings, but it was the way that he worked his way out of jams that was perhaps the most impressive. Pavano gave up a leadoff hit in four of his first five innings and had a runner advance to third in three of those innings.

But only one run scored over that time, coming in the fifth when Travis Snider followed up Edwin Encarnacion's triple with an RBI double to put Toronto up, 1-0.

From there, Pavano (12-11) did not allow a hit over the rest of his outing. He retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced and delivered the type of performance the Twins were looking for when they acquired the veteran pitcher in early August to help stabilize their rotation.

"That is what was needed when you are pitching against Halladay," Gardenhire said of Pavano's outing. "I think he rose to the occasion. He knew what we needed and that was not to give up anything."

Pavano said he was aware of what he faced when taking the mound against Halladay, but tried not to put too much additional pressure on himself.

"He's tough. That's why he's one of the best pitchers in the league," Pavano said. "I kind of push those thoughts out of my head and focus on the job I have to do. That's to keep us in the ballgame, get ahead of hitters and do the job I have to do."

Holding a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the eighth thanks to Morneau's homer, Pavano walked leadoff batter Marco Scutaro to put the tying run on base. After a sac bunt advanced the runner into scoring position, Pavano was replaced by left-hander Jose Mijares, who got out of the jam by striking out Adam Lind and getting Lyle Overbay to hit a grounder back to the mound.

The Twins weren't done taking advantage of Halladay, as they were able to build a three-run cushion for closer Joe Nathan to capture his 38th save of the season.

Delmon Young led off the ninth with a double to right field. Brian Buscher followed with a single to center, his third hit of the game, tying a career high, and took second base on center fielder Vernon Wells' throw home. With one out in the inning, pinch-hitter Michael Cuddyer doubled to left-center field to drive in two more runs.

At the end of the contest, Gardenhire sounded exasperated, almost as if his team had gotten away with something. By beating Halladay, perhaps it did.

"You're facing, we think, the best right-hander in the league in Halladay and you know it's not going to be easy," Gardenhire said. "He can make the ball do all sorts of things. We got exactly what we thought. He was filthy and made it tough on us. But it was really exciting to get to him there at the end and score some runs on him."

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

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