Twins welcome Mauer back with a win
Joe Mauer brought a big smile back to the dugout after hitting a home run in his first at-bat, and his teammates were just as quick to needle him about his exceptional talent.
Is it really THAT easy, they jokingly asked?
Mauer looked like a natural in his delayed season debut and scored three times, and Morneau's go-ahead two-run shot sent the Twins to a 7-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
"I was a little nervous. It was kind of like an opening day," Mauer said.
David DeJesus drove in three runs for the Royals, and Jose Guillen made Kevin Slowey (4-0) sweat his perfect record with a two-run single that tied it at 5 in the fifth inning.
But Morneau connected in the bottom half and Minnesota's bullpen took over from there. Matt Guerrier needed only 12 pitches for two perfect innings of relief, Jose Mijares struck out the side in the eighth and Joe Nathan finished for his fourth save.
Mauer, who sat out all of spring training and then missed the first 22 games while recovering from lingering inflammation in a joint in his lower back, came off the disabled list in the afternoon. It was difficult to imagine the two-time batting champion making more of an impact on his first night.
"Some guys can do it a little bit better than others, and he's one of those guys," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Mauer hit a 2-0 fastball from Sidney Ponson in the bottom of the first into the left-field seats, drawing a rousing cheer from a Metrodome crowd of 24,727 that had already given him three standing ovations.
"I kind of didn't know what to do," Mauer said.
Well, hitting one out was a good place to start.
"We didn't make it tough enough on him," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
The All-Star catcher started the fourth with a double on an 0-2 curveball and scored on Morneau's single soon after. Nick Punto added a two-out, two-run single later in the inning, giving the Twins a 5-2 lead against the scuffling Ponson (0-4).
Then in the fifth, after Slowey let the Royals tie it in the top of the frame, Mauer drew a one-out walk. He got to jog home this time, because Morneau bashed a high fastball from Ponson into the folded stacks of football seats to make it 7-5.
"I tried to go in. It stayed over the middle," Ponson said. "They're supposed to hit it hard like that."
Ponson, pitching for his sixth major league team in the last four years, allowed a season-high nine hits and seven runs in 4 1-3 innings while his ERA soared to 7.16.
"You've got to make pitches," Hillman said. "Those M&M boys, everybody knows how good they are. They get even better when you give them good pitches to hit."
Ponson made seven starts in 2007 before being cut by the Twins, who called up Slowey to join their rotation two weeks later. Slowey gave up eight hits in five innings, though he struck out four without a walk. Like Ponson, he left too many fastballs over the plate, and also failed to consistently change speeds.
But Mauer's smashing success made Slowey's struggles mostly forgotten.
"I don't think any of us were as excited as he was to be out there," Slowey said. "He's an amazing talent, but he's an even better guy - and it's good to have him back."
The Twins split their games while Mauer was out, going 11-11 in the season's first month. The Royals were 12-10, their first winning April since 2003 — and just their second in the last 20 years. Ponson's latest disappointing performance put a damper on their first game in May.
He didn't get a chance to warm up, but Royals closer Joakim Soria was ready for action again after an eight-day break to rest a sore right shoulder. His last appearance was also his only one since April 13. Juan Cruz filled in and got the save Thursday, but that was the only such situation the team was in last week. "We were really fortunate," Hillman said.