Twins 7, White Sox 4, 10 innings

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Justin Morneau is a soft-spoken, hockey-loving Canadian who shies away from the spotlight at every opportunity.

He’s perfectly content living in buddy Joe Mauer’s 6-foot-5 inch shadow, but Morneau is getting more and more comfortable in prime time situations.

Morneau’s second homer of the game, a three-run blast off Nick Masset in the 10th inning, lifted the struggling Minnesota Twins to a 7-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.

“I wouldn’t say I like it,” Morneau said of coming to the plate with the game on the line. “But the more you get up there, the more comfortable you feel in that situation.”

Luis Castillo led off the 10th with a double past a diving Joe Crede at third base, and Andrew Sisco (0-1) struck out Jason Kubel before Masset intentionally walked Torii Hunter.

Masset got cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer to fly out, but hung a pitch letter-high to Morneau, who drilled a no-doubter deep into the upper deck in right field to win it.

It was his second game-winning homer this season and fifth multi-homer game of his career. He hit a solo homer in the ninth inning against Tampa Bay on April 12. But he came into the game hitting just .267 with six homers and 17 RBIs after being the surprise AL MVP last season.

“He carried us all last year and hopefully we can hop on his back again, with Joe Mauer out,” third baseman Nick Punto said.

Morneau hit a solo shot in the second to end a long homerless drought for the Twins and Juan Rincon (2-0) pitched a scoreless 10th inning to get the victory for Minnesota, which appeared well on its way to a fifth loss in six games before Chicago starter Javier Vazquez left the mound.

Vazquez stymied the struggling Twins hitters for seven innings, allowing one run and four hits and striking out seven. He handed over a 4-1 lead to Mike MacDougal to start the eighth, and that’s when the Twins bats came alive.

Jason Bartlett had an RBI-double, Castillo scored a run with a groundout, and Hunter extended his hitting streak to 22 games with an RBI-single up the middle off David Aardsma that tied the game 4-4.

“A game like that we have to win,” Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. “Especially with the bullpen we have. When you’ve got a lead like that, the way we throw the ball out of the bullpen, that’s a game you should have. No question about it. But they never give up.”

Crede had a homer and two RBIs for the White Sox, who took advantage of a throwing error by Minnesota starter Boof Bonser to take a three-run lead in the sixth.

Bonser fielded a bunt from Pablo Ozuna and tried to throw out Darin Erstad at third base, but his throw sailed wide of Punto and into foul territory, allowing Erstad to score. A.J. Pierzynski, the former Twin who is still booed loudly in the Metrodome, and Crede added soft RBI-singles.

“This is definitely more of a heartbreaker, but we’ve got to say ‘Hey, it’s a loss,’ and move on,” Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. “We can still try to win this series.”

Both clubs limped into this series opener beset by injuries in the field and ineptitude at the plate.

The White Sox are playing without table setter Scott Podsednik (groin) and slugger Jim Thome (ribs) and entered the night with an AL-worst .222 batting average.

The Twins were hitting .273, but have faltered lately while losing batting champ Mauer (quad), left fielder Rondell White (calf) and Cuddyer (back), who returned on Tuesday night after a five-game absence.

The Twins have never been known as a big-boppin’ club, but this year’s team really put the “small” in small ball before Morneau’s big night.

They managed five runs while losing two of three to Boston over the weekend and entered the game with just 16 homers in their first 31 games, second fewest in the majors to Washington’s 13. Morneau’s homer in the second snapped a string of 189 plate appearances without a long ball.

“Hopefully it takes all the pressure off everybody,” Morneau said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle for a while. Maybe this will turn it around.”

Notes

Twins 3B Punto made a highlight-reel catch in the seventh when Konerko’s popup bounced out of his glove, but he caught it on the rebound just before it hit the ground. … Aardsma drew jeers in the ninth when his first pitch of an intentional walk to Punto sailed over Pierzynski’s mitt.

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