MINNEAPOLIS — Even though Justin Morneau hasn’t homered in over 160 at-bats, the Twins first baseman has still been a big part of Minnesota’s offense.
Such was the case Tuesday, when Morneau went 3-for-4 with a double and drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning to help Minnesota top Philadelphia by a 3-2 final at Target Field. Morneau’s single with two outs in the eighth drove in Jamey Carroll from third and helped the Twins improve to 29-33 on the year.
“A very big at-bat by Mr. Morneau,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.
Morneau came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and a 2-2 tie. He faced left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo, who was called in from the bullpen to replace Mike Adams and face Morneau. After fouling off three two-strike pitches, Morneau lined a rocket back up the middle for a base hit.
The left-handed Morneau has batted just .246 against lefties this year, but he connected against Bastardo. Morneau also continued a trend he’s followed this season with that at-bat: a knack for clutch hitting. Thanks to his two-out single with runners on first and third, Morneau is now batting .384 (10-for-26) with 14 RBI in situations with two outs and runners in scoring position.
On the Twins’ recent road trip, Minnesota struggled to hit with runners in scoring position and left a lot of men on base. In a loss to the Royals last week, the Twins stranded 14 runners on base. Saturday in Washington, they left 13 runners on base.
Morneau changed his team’s fortunes in that department on Tuesday.
“To come through in that situation is good for the team; it’s good for everybody,” Morneau said. “It’s one of those things, I think it helps to be in that situation over and over again. The more you tell yourself the pressure’s on the pitcher and not the hitter, then I think you can have more success that way. Being in that situation and wanting to be in that situation helps.”
Following his three-hit night Tuesday, Morneau is now 9-for-26 (.346) in seven games in June. You have to go way back to April 28, however, to find the last time Morneau hit a home run. That came against the Texas Rangers in a 5-0 win at Target Field. Since then, Morneau has had 163 plate appearances without a homer.
The 32-year-old Morneau hit 19 homers in 134 games last year. His career high was 34 back in 2006 when he was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player. He has 206 homers for his career, one behind Kirby Puckett for fifth on the Twins’ all-time list.
Amid all of that, Morneau can’t recall a power outage like the one he’s currently enduring.
“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Morneau said. “It’s frustrating how sometimes you aren’t hitting but at least run into one every once in a while. I’ve been trying to do everything I can to find that swing. . . . It can be streaky. You can hit three or four in a seven or eight game span, and all of a sudden something clicks for you.”
The power hasn’t clicked yet for Morneau — his two home runs are fewer than teammates Aaron Hicks (6), Pedro Florimon (3) and Brian Dozier (3), among others. But he’s continued to be productive at the plate regardless. His three hits Tuesday raised his season batting average to .297, second on the team behind Joe Mauer’s .330 average. After an RBI double in the fourth inning and the go-ahead RBI in the eighth, Morneau now has a team-high 36 RBI on the year.
“He’s having some really, really good at-bats,” Gardenhire said. “If you look at his numbers with runners out there, he does pretty good.”
As he searches for his next home run, Morneau continues to do his pregame work and hits off the tees while working with hitting coach Tom Brunansky. As he endures a homerless drought unlike any he’s ever experienced in the majors, Morneau doesn’t have answers for his power outage.
“It’s one of those things I’ve been trying to figure out,” Morneau said. “I can drive myself crazy trying to figure it out, but just go out there and keep trying to hit the ball hard and eventually it’ll turn in the right direction. Right now I still feel like I’m having productive at-bats and still finding a way to help us win ball games.”