Justin Morneau is now one of five. That is, one of five players since 2000 to have three walk-off home runs in a season. That's a list that also includes Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, and Alex Rodriguez. Pretty prestigious company, even if Alex Gonzalez is the final name on the list. Every month this year, Morneau has come up with a clutch bomb to win a game, the first coming against Tampa Bay in April and the second being a more memorable three-run walk-off shot against the Chicago White Sox.
For all the talk of "clutch" players like Derek Jeter, Morneau's name doesn't seem to come up quite enough. Even though he's hitting around .200 in "close and late" situations, Morneau still has had three memorable blasts that have seemingly come just when the team needed them. And there was no better time than yesterday, when Morneau stepped into the box in the ninth inning in a game that many Twins fans (and perhaps players) probably felt ready to give up on.
Why? The Twins managed to put together a 9-2 lead, getting even Lew Ford and Jason Tyner (better known as "Spare Parts") into the action. The Twins subsequently let that lead slip rapidly, as Juan Rincon gave up three eighth inning runs and Joe Nathan gave up two ninth inning runs, including a ridiculous Prince Fielder inside-the-park home run that should have been ruled a single with a three-base error by Lew Ford, who lost the fly ball in the ceiling.
If Morneau was the MVP of the game, Ford was possibly the LVP. Ford's bat did do something in the game at least, as he had a two-run double in the Twins' big fifth inning and a total of four on the night. However, his defense in center, where he replaced Torii Hunter (who left the game with a bruised hand) was unsightly. He not only made a major error on the Fielder play, but he helped give the Brewers a tie with a terrible throw to the plate on Craig Counsell's sacrifice fly in the ninth. Even if Hunter's defense has slipped, his arm is still plenty powerful and accurate and there's no way he makes the same mistake Ford does in that situation.
Of course, it's hard to heap all the blame of Ford's mistakes when the bullpen still wasn't too good. Nathan didn't deserve the earned run for Fielder's so-called home run, but he did allow three singles outside of that to load the bases. In fact, despite his 2.45 ERA, it's June and Nathan has allowed 32 hits in 29 1/3 innings for a .281 OBA and with the nine walks he has allowed, a 1.40 WHIP. To be fair, Nathan did strike out two batters, but it is worrisome that his unusual numbers have continued into June. As for Rincon, the bad outing only adds to the notion that he hasn't been the same since 2005.
In fact, the only good pitcher last night was Matt Guerrier, who threw 1 2/3 no-hit innings with three strikeouts. Twins starter Kevin Slowey had a usual outing for himself, giving up eight hits (not a huge surprise given that he's around the plate) to go with four walks and three home runs. It's good news that Slowey struck out four in 5 1/3 innings, but the walks and home runs are at least somewhat troubling.
What does this all lead up to? Despite a laundry list of mistakes, the Twins managed to get a win and avoid a sweep at home thanks to the bat of their MVP. It almost seemed like Morneau was ready to go up to the plate and carry his team to victory, even after such a disheartening comeback by the opposing team.