MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Twins have been celebrating their final season in the Metrodome the easy way.
Jogging around the bases has become routine for these suddenly powerful Twins, whose home run streak reached nine straight games—their longest in seven years.
Minnesota began the game with the fifth-most home runs in the majors after finishing next-to-last in each of the last two years, but Morneau’s was set up by the small ball the Twins have been more familiar with.
In contrast, struggling slugger David Ortiz(notes) was dropped to sixth from the No. 3 spot in the Boston lineup. The last time Oritz, who has just one homer this season, batted lower than fourth was May 18, 2004.
Good speed plus seeing-eye singles and high chops were actually the recipe for this Twins victory. The bottom four in Minnesota’s batting order—Brendan Harris(notes), Delmon Young(notes), Matt Tolbert(notes) and Nick Punto(notes)—were a combined 1 for 30 over the previous three games. But they had four hits and scored three runs between them, frustrating Lester (3-5) in the fifth.
“If the bottom of the order can start producing,” Punto said, “this can be one of the best offenses in team history.”
Lester’s breakout 2008 season hasn’t led to any sustained success yet this year: He has given up at least five runs in six of 10 starts.
After stranding a runner on third with one out in the second, striking out Joe Mauer(notes) with a runner on second to end the third, and breezing through a three-up-three-down fourth, Lester faltered in the fifth.
Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) made a fully extended horizontal catch in deep center field to take an extra-base hit from Young, but Tolbert beat out a chop to shortstop and Punto followed with an RBI single to tie the game at 1. Denard Span(notes) bounced into an out, but it cleared Lester’s head and allowed Tolbert to score.
“That’s how you put the pressure on the defense, and we need more of that,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Then Mauer walked, before Morneau’s line drive that quickly cleared the right-field wall. Lester hung his head and wiped his face with his jersey, while Morneau jogged around the bases for the 14th time this season to make it 5-1.
“I felt like I threw the ball pretty well. Made one mistake. He hit it out. That’s what makes him a good hitter,” Lester said. “I don’t think it’s a mental lapse or anything like that. It’s just not executing pitches.”
Lester finished six innings, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out four.
“That’s tough to beat those guys when that stuff happens,” Pedroia said. “Because their two, three, four, five, six guys, they swing the bats better than anybody in baseball.”
Blackburn found himself in similar situations as Lester, but he avoided the game-changing hit.
“His ball is really sinking now. A lot of confidence. He’s mastering the strike zone,” Gardenhire said.
Blackburn has lasted seven innings or more in six of his last seven starts, and Matt Guerrier(notes) pitched a perfect eighth before Joe Nathan(notes) notched his seventh save with a scoreless ninth. ^Notes: X-rays were negative on Twins 3B Joe Crede’s(notes) right hand, where he was hit by a pitch Sunday. He has a deep bone bruise. … Clay Buchholz(notes) took a perfect game into the ninth inning for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Monday. Francona acknowledged the concern of prospects like Buchholz growing frustrated by spending too much time in the minors, but said: “If the callups were on their schedule, we’d have a 55-man roster.” … Mauer failed to get a hit for just the fourth time in 24 games. … Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 21 games.