Posted at 6:00 AM on September 20, 2007
by David Zingler
Justin Morneau's encore to his 2006 MVP season started with a bang. He made his first All Star appearance and was one of the games elite power hitters through July. While he is enjoying another 30 homerun, 100 RBI season, the second half hasn't gone as planned for the 26-year-old.
I sat down for a candid interview with the straightforward slugger prior to Wednesday's game:
DZ: As the season winds down, how are you feeling right now?
MORNEAU: I've got the normal September aches and pains. You feel them a little more when you are out of the race - when you're in the race and you're a little banged up, it doesn't hurt as much because you are playing to get into the playoffs.
DZ: It's your job to come our there and play, how do you keep it out of your mind that you aren't in the race - opposed to last year when things were pretty hot and heavy at this point?
MORNEAU: We still have something to play for - we are trying to finish above .500, which is something we haven't not done since 2000. Gardy, as a manager, hasn't had a season where he hasn't been above .500. So, that's something we still have to play for. It's important to us...I don't want to be on a team with a losing record - there's the pride factor. At the same time, we want to get a look at some of the younger guys too.
DZ: You've been lucky to play on teams that have been in contention most of your career. Do you ever talk to veteran players around the league that haven't been as fortunate?
MORNEAU: You can just see it when you are playing against teams that have been out of it for a while. There's a totally different feel, I am glad I haven't had to go through that. It's tough when you are playing and you look up at the races and know you have no chance to catch (the top teams) - it's disappointing.
DZ: How about you personally - you got out to a really good start and in the second half things haven't work out as well, what do you think are the reasons for that?
MORNEAU: I think it's been a good year - a productive year. It's the first time in 20 years (in Twins history) there have been back-to-back 30-homerun seasons. People forget that it hasn't happened here in a long time. It's something I am proud of, obviously. Where I was at in homeruns (at the All Star break), I thought I had a chance to hit 40 this year, but it didn't happen. 30 is still a good year, 100 RBI is still a positive year. You can look at it that way, build on it and be more positive going into next year.
DZ: Do you set any numerical goals heading into the season?
MORNEAU: You look and see what it would take to get to those numbers, but at the same time, wins are the most important numbers. If you hit that many homeruns, it helps your team win.
DZ: Do you get into a friendly competition with guys like Torii Hunter, who you are battling for the team lead (in homers and RBI)?
MORNEAU: We look at it. The past couple of years we've kind of pushed each other in RBI and homeruns. Having another power hitter in the line-up has helped him and he's helped me. It's gives the pitchers something to think about.
DZ: Cuddyer being out of the line-up for a while (in late July/early August) kind of coincided with your homeruns tailing off a bit, did not having his bat in there play a factor?
MORNEAU: Joe was hurt for awhile, we traded our lead-off hitter...The guys that have gone in there have done a great job, but it's not the same as having a guy that has been in the league eight or nine years being your lead-off hitter. It was a culmination of things: guys being hurt, it's been a little difficult with the line-up changes - especially late in the season.
DZ: A lot has been made over the years about your relationship with Torii Hunter - you seem close now, but there's a strong possibility that he won't be back next year. Do you think about the fact that you may be playing your last few games with him?
MORNEAU: Yeah, I think about it. I am surprised we don't see more signs here at the Dome - "Re-sign Torii" or "Stay Torii". It's his last four games, possibly, at the Dome - I really hope it's not, but you never know. It's rare that you get to play with a guy that has won six or seven straight Gold Gloves, (can do it) with the bat and is great in the community.
DZ: (Hunter) is the last of the Twins players from the early part of the decade - before you got here - if he does leave, do you feel like it is up to guys like you and Joe (Mauer) to step up and be the leaders?
MORNEAU: We have a lot of guys that know how to play the game right, they go about their business the right way...Me and Joe aren't really guys that say a lot. If I lead, or in that situation where I lead, I will lead by example - going out and playing hard...You can say too much, but your actions speak louder than words.
(Stay tuned for Part II on Friday.)
Posted at 1:01 PM on September 20, 2007
by David Zingler
MINNEAPOLIS – Not only does struggling infielder Nick Punto have the inside track to man second base when the Twins open the 2008 season, he’s also being considered to anchor their line-up as the No. 4 hitter.
“Nicky is a warrior,” manager Ron Gardenhire explained. “He’ll be in the mix with Morny, Cuddy and Torii – if he’s still here – for the clean-up spot next season. Right now he might only have warning track power, but he plans on lifting weights and taking anything legal that he can get his hands on to muscle up. Nobody works harder than Nicky.”
“I may only have 1 homer this year, but people forget how close I’ve come to having a lot more,” the 5-9, 170 lb. Punto pointed out. “Add another 10-15 feet to a lot of my fly balls and I might have 15-20 bombs.”
Most of Punto’s teammates seemed surprised about the manager’s comments, but were reluctant to weigh in. Torii Hunter meanwhile, began giggling uncontrollably at the suggestion.
“A lot of people may not like my decisions,” Gardenhire continued. “But last time I checked, they don’t occupy the manager’s office. I’d take 25 Nicky Puntos if I could.”