Sept. 2, 2009
MINNEAPOLIS – Jose Morales saw his teammates rushing toward him from the dugout shortly after his two-out, pinch-hit single in the ninth inning scored Nick Punto to give the Twins a 4-3 win Tuesday over the White Sox and keep his ballclub 3 1/2 games back of first-place Detroit.
The backup catcher, fresh off his late-game heroics, didn’t really have a defense against the congratulatory mob.
“I just let them have it,” Morales said. “I didn’t care. … It was just great. I can’t describe that feeling.”
It had been nearly two months since Morales had seen action in a Twins uniform, spending the better part of July and August with Triple-A Rochester. His ninth-inning pinch-hit marked his first at-bat since being recalled from the Red Wings last Friday.
All that time off didn’t seem to matter, and neither did the magnitude of the game.
Morales laced an 0-1 pitch from reliever Tony Pena to right-center, bringing in Punto and sending his teammates racing from the dugout.
“He knows his role here and knows what he’s done,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Boy, every time it seems like I’ve taken him and put him in a situation, he’s come up with a nice swing and hit the ball hard.”
“We’re in September. It’s a different feeling,” Morales said. “Every game’s important. It was just a great win.”
Minnesota needed Morales’ walk-off magic after Chicago knotted the game at 3 on a two-run homer by Gordon Beckham in the eighth. The Twins’ Jason Kubel then started off the ninth with a single to center, and Punto took over at first as a pinch-runner. Brendan Harris laced a single up the middle, his second hit of the night — to advance Punto to third, setting up Morales’ walk-off two batters later.
“Give them hats off; we got two outs, they got a base hit to win,” Beckham said. “What are you going to do?”
Up until that point, the show had been stolen by Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who belted two solo home runs off Chicago starter John Danks in the fifth and seventh innings. Cuddyer’s second blast of the night was his 24th of the season, matching his career high set in 2006 and giving Minnesota 3-1 lead.
The two homers pushed Cuddyer’s career batting average against Danks to .481.
“I’ve got success off of him, but he’s tough,” Cuddyer said. “It’s not like I get in the box and I’m like, ‘Oh, good, I get to face John Danks.’ He’s a tough pitcher. He can come at you with a lot of different things.”
Minnesota countered Danks with rookie pitcher Jeff Manship, who made his first career big league start Tuesday. Manship, who had made five relief appearances for the Twins, pitched five innings and allowed just one run on four Chicago hits.
“I definitely was happy with how I pitched tonight,” said Manship, who didn’t factor into the decision. “I’m glad to get that one out of the way, for sure.”
Alexei Ramirez disrupted Manship’s debut and put the White Sox on the board with a solo home run in the fifth inning. Ramirez’s 15th of the season reached the seats in left, putting Chicago up, 1-0.
But that would be the lone run Manship would surrender in his first start, who was thrust into the rotation following a handful of injuries in Minnesota’s pitching staff.
“Manship was super for us, gave us a good solid five innings,” Gardenhire said. “He made one mistake and the guy put it in the seats. Other than that, he controlled the game, used all of his pitches and fastball, changeup and his breaking balls. That was impressive for the young man to step up against that team.”
The first of Cuddyer’s two homers picked Manship up following Ramirez’s solo shot, as Cuddyer took Danks deep to left to open the bottom half of the third.
On each of his home runs, Cuddyer kept his teammates a bit nervous in the dugout upon his return, as he sought out whoever would accept one of his now-trademark emphatic high-fives.
“I love Michael hitting home runs. I hate the high-fives,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t know if you watch him, he breaks your hand in the dugout. You can’t get away from him because you have to high-five him.”
After Cuddyer tied things up, Minnesota then took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Orlando Cabrera that scored Denard Span. Span led off the inning with his ninth triple of the season, tying him for the most in the American League.
After regaining a 3-1 lead, Twins relievers Jose Mijares and Matt Guerrier combined to allow two White Sox runs in the eighth. Mijares opened the inning by walking Scott Podsednik on four straight pitches, and Guerrier then served up a first-pitch home run to Beckham.
“Matty came in and made one mistake,” Gardenhire said. “Walking the leadoff guys leads to trouble all the time. Mijares just didn’t throw it over and then Matty threw first pitch down the middle. Tried to go away with a fastball and got it down the middle.”
John Rauch (2-0) pitched a scoreless ninth for the win.
The collapse by the Twins’ bullpen set the stage for Morales’ dramatic single in the bottom of the ninth, which pushed Minnesota’s record to two games above .500 and 11-3 in the last 14 games.
“The reason we’re there is because we’re not worrying about tomorrow and we’re not worrying about yesterday,” Cuddyer said. “Hopefully when it’s all said and done, we can look back and say, ‘That was a heck of a run, heck of a streak.'”
Tyler Mason is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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