Morneau Turning On The Power

Morneau already has 17 home runs this season.

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, Justin Morneau is out to smash last season's statistics, the Twins get ready for the fireworks of Francisco Liriano vs. Roger Clemens, Joe Nathan blows a save but settles in for the win, and much more.

The Twins are starting to learn the difference real power makes in their power to win ballgames.

First baseman Justin Morneau demonstrated that again Tuesday when he delivered another 2-for-5 game that included a game-winning homer and stretched his hitting streak to 11 games, a career-best run that includes six homers in the past 10 games.

Morneau's shot in the 10th inning Tuesday was his 17th of the year, just five short of his career high for a season and well on a pace that looks as if it will make him the first Twin since 1987 to hit 30 homers in a season.

He bumped his RBI total into a tie for second in the league at 57 -- three behind the leader -- and he has his average up to .270.

"I don't think this is a streak," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "This is a bit more consistency at the plate and better at-bats daily. He's carrying three or four quality at-bats a day now, and he's been doing that for a while. That's what we're looking for from him."

Morneau's "not a streak" began after Morneau sat out a game in Seattle, following a game in which he missed a sign on the bases and took a particularly ill-judged at-bat at a critical time of the game. Since he returned to the lineup, the Twins have won 10 of 11 games.

"I just got tired of (stinking), to put it bluntly," Morneau said. "When you know you're capable of a lot more than you've been doing, it gets frustrating. Sometimes something happens and it just clicks and you start feeling good and get a little confidence."

REPLAY:
Justin Morneau's home run in the 10th inning lifted the Twins to a 6-5 victory over the Houston Astros that pushed the Twins' winning streak to eight straight and pushed their record over .500 for the first time since they were 6-5.

RHP Joe Nathan, the All-Star closer who had converted all of his first 10 saves, including three in the past four games, blew one for the first time this season when LF Preston Wilson homered to tie the game with two out in the ninth. But Nathan (5-0) pitched a 1-2-3 10th after Morneau's homer to earn the win.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • With all the sound and fury building toward Thursday's season debut of RHP Roger Clemens against the Twins and 22-year-old LHP Francisco Liriano, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his young pitcher: "You'd like to say it's just another ballgame, but it's a little bit different down here in Houston and, actually, probably the rest of the United States. I think he's to the point now where he'll handle himself just fine." Liriano is 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA in six starts since joining the rotation May 19.

  • LF Shannon Stewart (left foot tendon) did a "simulated" baserunning drill in the outfield in Houston before Tuesday's game and fared better straight ahead than turning corners. Stewart, who's been on the DL more than a month, needs to show he can run the actual bases in spikes before the Twins will send him on a minor league rehab assignment that might last about a week.

  • OF Jason Kubel, who has played well in the field and at the plate (homers in three of four games until Tuesday), is expected to remain the Twins' regular left fielder even after LF Shannon Stewart returns to the lineup, possibly sometime in the next week or two. Manager Ron Gardenhire said he likes how Kubel has handled the job and that he plans to use Stewart mostly as a DH, with spot starts in left, taking pressure off his injured left foot (plantar fasciitis).

  • According to probable pitching matchups unveiled Tuesday, Chicago Cubs RHP Mark Prior, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 draft, is scheduled to pitch Saturday at the Metrodome in his first career game against the Twins, who passed on him in 2001 to take C Joe Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick.

  • After winning just nine of their first 33 games on the road, the Twins have a five-game road winning streak, going back to their final game on their previous road trip.
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