Minnesota’s Justin Morneau ends lengthy homer drought

MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Morneau was looking for somebody — anybody — to celebrate with after he finally snapped his career-long home run drought.

His teammates, however, had other plans.

As Morneau got back to the dugout following a two-run shot in the bottom of the sixth inning in Wednesday’s 7-4 win over the White Sox, Morneau was greeted by the silent treatment from the rest of the Twins. They failed to acknowledge Morneau for his homer, so he instead decided to give high-fives to the air.

“I had a lot of imaginary friends there,” Morneau said. “I’ve seen that done a few times. I’ve never had that done to me. It was just the reaction. You can stand there and look like an idiot or high-five the air like an idiot. I chose to high-five the air like an idiot. It was fun.”

After leaving Morneau hanging out to dry, the Twins finally joined the first baseman in his celebration. It had been close to two months since Morneau last put a ball in the seats. His last homer prior to Wednesday was way back on April 28, a span of 168 at-bats without a homer.

For someone who views himself as a power hitter, the slump was tough for Morneau to take. He adjusted his swing and spent extra time hitting off the tee before games as he worked with hitting coach Tom Brunansky. Finally, that extra work paid off in the form of his third homer of the year, a two-run shot off Chicago reliever Deunte Heath that put the Twins up 7-1.

“It’s been a while,” Morneau said. “It was a good feeling. It was a good game for us. Hopefully that gets the monkey off my back and I can go play and get rolling, hopefully.”

Even though the home runs weren’t coming for Morneau, he was still producing at the plate. Including Wednesday’s 2-for-5 night at the plate, Morneau is now batting .289 with a team-leading 40 RBI.

Still, his three homers rank tied for ninth on the Twins. He has fewer home runs than guys like rookie Oswaldo Arcia, center fielder Aaron Hicks and second baseman Brian Dozier, who belted his fifth of the year Wednesday in the second inning.

“I think I was still helping the team by still driving in runs,” Morneau said of his homerless stretch. “If you’re not doing anything to help the team win, that makes it a little difficult. But running out there every day, working hard trying to find that swing and just continue to try to have good at-bats, I think for the most part I’ve been able to do that. Hopefully the home runs will start coming a little more consistently.”

Morneau struck out looking against left-hander Chris Sale in the first inning and singled off Sale in the third. Morneau then flew out to right in his third at-bat in the fourth inning, but Sale was out of the game by the time Morneau stepped to the plate a fourth time.

With Heath on the mound, Morneau fouled a rocket down the right-field line that hit the camera well. It was a hard-hit foul that let Morneau know his swing was starting to click; he was just a bit early on the 76 mph slider from Heath.

Two pitches later, Morneau connected on a pitch up and over the plate and planted it in the right-field seats for a two-run shot.

At long last, the slump was over.

“It was big. We gave him a little hard time, a big guy like that, it took him that long to get a home run,” said Twins starter Kevin Correia, who improved to 6-4 with the win. “We gave him the cold shoulder when he came in, but it was nice. It couldn’t have come at a better time to just kind of get that cushion, which ended up meaning a little bit at the end of the game.”

With the homer, Morneau tied the late Kirby Puckett for fifth on the Twins’ all-time list with 207 career home runs. Puckett did so in 12 seasons. This is Morneau’s 11th year in the majors.

Now that Morneau’s homerless drought has ended, the question is whether Wednesday’s blast will help catapult his power numbers the rest of the season.

“Hopefully it’s the start of good things,” Morneau said. “You never know. The old saying, one home run doesn’t make a home run hitter. …

“It’s one of those things that hopefully gets you going in the right direction. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is hit a home run and you start trying to do that over and over again. For me, I think hopefully this is the best-case scenario.”

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