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07/16/08 3:59 AM ET
Morneau's mad dash pays off
First baseman's winning run caps Twins' All-Star experience
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Twins first baseman's Justin Morneau's instant analysis of the situation was not a positive one. He did not deem this to be the perfect opportunity for the American League to win the longest of the 79 All-Star Games on Tuesday. "One of the slowest guys on the field on third," Morneau said, "and a semi-shallow sac fly."
The slow guy, of course, was Morneau himself. He was on third after notching a single off closer Brad Lidge to open the bottom of the 15th and advancing on a Dioner Navarro single and a J.D. Drew walk.
When Michael Young lifted that aforementioned semi-shallow sacrifice fly to right, Morneau knew he would have a chance to put an end to the all-nighter.
Albeit a slim chance, given Morneau's speed -- or lack thereof.
But Morneau had momentum. He had heard an AL teammate joke during one of the many extra innings that, "If this game goes any longer, I'm going to have to put eye black on."
He had also watched the AL squander opportunity after opportunity in extras -- including a bases-loaded, no-out situation against Aaron Cook in the 10th that went nowhere. In fact, Morneau was partially to blame for that 10th-inning freeze-out, as his groundout ended the threat.
So the analysis didn't matter. Morneau wanted this run too much, and he got it. Once the ball was in right fielder Corey Hart's glove, he charged down the third-base line and slid in -- barely -- ahead of Braves catcher Brian McCann's tag.
Emphasis on the "barely."
"It was about as close as you can get," Morneau said. "I thought I was out until I saw him reach across for the ball then have to come back to make the tag. My foot just barely made it in."
Because it made it in, the AL came out ahead, 4-3, securing a home-field advantage in the World Series that Morneau hopes he and his Twins teammates can take advantage of.
In the meantime, the three members of the Twins who came here to the Big Apple to represent Minnesota in the final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium had plenty to enjoy.
Whether it was Joe Mauer getting his first All-Star start or Joe Nathan taking in Morneau's Home Run Derby victory with his son Chase, this proved to be a special couple of days for the boys from the Twin Cities.
"This is definitely more crazy than a normal All-Star Game," said Nathan, who tossed a perfect seventh inning in his third Midsummer Classic. "But it's all for the good. It's been unbelievable."
Mauer, who drew a walk in the second inning and notched his first All-Star hit with a chopper up the middle in the fifth, could hardly believe he was getting the start amongst the game's elite players.
"It's pretty cool," Mauer said. "Just looking around at the different lockers and seeing the amount of talent ... to be around some guys who were around when you weren't even playing professionally is pretty special."
But none of the Twins had a more special experience than Morneau, who had to outlast the unbelievable performance turned in by Josh Hamilton to win the Derby on Monday night and was applauded for the classy way he handled a somewhat awkward situation.
Clearly, the fans wanted Hamilton to win after he crushed 28 homers in the first round, and Morneau said he could hardly blame them.
"It was his moment, and it was tough for me to fully enjoy [winning], because I wanted to see him win and everybody in the stadium wanted to see him win," Morneau said. "At the same time, I wouldn't have gotten in it if I didn't want to win."
Morneau wanted to help the AL win Tuesday night's game, and he gave them a fighting chance when he doubled off Edinson Volquez to lead off the bottom of the seventh. The AL was trailing, 2-0, at the time, but Morneau's double sparked a rally, as J.D. Drew homered two outs later to tie it up.
But Morneau struggled to come through in the clutch late. After the AL tied it up again at 3 in the eighth, he came up with two outs and Evan Longoria on second but made the last out when he grounded out to pitcher Billy Wagner.
In the 10th, he came up with the bases loaded and two out and hit a grounder to shortstop Miguel Tejada. Tejada's throw just barely beat Morneau to the bag.
As the game dragged on into the bottom of the 15th, the AL was in desperate need of a hero. The Junior Circuit's last pitcher, Scott Kazmir, had worked the top of the 15th on one day's rest, and everyone in attendance was getting equally restless, with that dreaded word -- "tie" -- on their lips.
Morneau delivered with that single. And when he came home with the winning run on a play that made him feel like he was "running through quicksand," it was sweet relief.
"That was an unbelievably long game," an exhausted Morneau said. "It's good we won it. That would have been a tough one to take a loss."
Morneau was a winner on all fronts during these All-Star festivities.
"It's something I'll never forget, that's for sure," he said. "These last couple days were pretty special. You come in here, and hope to do well, and end up scoring the winning run. What happened in the Derby was also pretty special. It was definitely a couple days I'll always remember."
|"It was about as close as you can get. I thought I was out until I saw him reach across for the ball then have to come back to make the tag. My foot just barely made it in."|
|-- Justin Morneau|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.