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Minnesota Twins beat Tampa Bay with run in ninth

Minnesota Twins beat Tampa Bay with run in ninth
The Rays had the right strategy - but the wrong opponent.

Tampa Bay tried a five-infielder formation in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday night, and on paper, it worked. They got a hard ground ball directly at the second baseman, the very definition of a double-play ball.

Too bad Justin Morneau hit it.

Morneau's smash was just a little bit too hot for Akinori Iwamura to handle cleanly, and by the time he recovered the ground ball, it was too late. Morneau beat the relay, Jose Morales scored from third, and the Twins owned a 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay.

"They had them all in the right place," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the crowded infield, with right fielder Ben Zobrist moving in. "(Morneau) hit a rocket, and we ended up getting a break there."

Maybe they were owed one, considering they weren't expecting to play the bottom of the ninth anyway. The Twins took a 3-2 lead into the final inning, with Joe Nathan on the mound. "Game's over, 99 percent of the time," Morneau said. "Sometimes you have to pick each other up, and we did that tonight."

That's because Zobrist turned on Nathan's first pitch, a high fastball that didn't tail away, and cannoned it into the football seats in right-center field. It was Nathan's first blown save in four opportunities, but it set up some bottom-of-the-ninth chess playing.

Jose Morales -- who had already been bulldozed into the turf, beat out a bunt and coaxed almost seven strong innings out of Francisco Liriano -- led off the ninth with a looping single to right off Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell (0-2).

"I faced him yesterday, and he was throwing good changeups and good curveballs," Morales said. "I saw the change on the first pitch. Then he threw me a curveball, and I was just looking to put some wood on it."

Nick Punto sacrificed him to second, and Denard Span's infield hit moved him to third. Pinch-hitter Brendan Harris walked to load the bases and bring Morneau -- who already had launched his fifth homer of the season, a first-inning blast to left-center that barely missed a fan's handmade target -- to the plate.

"I had confidence he was going to bring me in, no matter what," Morales said.

All Morneau could see was all the space in right field, the area Zobrist had vacated to become an infielder.

"I didn't even see those (five infielders). I was trying to hit something to the outfield," Morneau admitted. "I wanted to get it in the air, but I ended up hitting on top of the ball. Still hit it hard, though."

That he did, hard enough that Iwamura could only knock it down. He scrambled to pick it up and shovel the Baseball to shortstop Jason Bartlett for the second out, but Morneau was two steps beyond first base when Bartlett's relay arrived.

"My speed usually kills us," Morneau joked. "Hopefully, when Joe (Mauer) returns, I won't have to use it anymore. Make him run around the bases."

The ninth-inning rally overshadowed some heartening performances by a couple of pitchers the Twins are counting on this year. Liriano remains 0-4, but he left with a lead, and renewed confidence after shutting out the American League champions' lineup through five innings, in part because Morales held on to the ball despite a wicked collision with Willy Aybar at the plate in the fifth.

Liriano allowed a couple of runs in the sixth, but "I was very excited for Frankie," Gardenhire said. "That's a very good thing for Frankie. He can raise his head right there -- he did a super job against a very good team."

So did Jose Mijares, who returned to the eighth-inning setup role he seemingly earned last September and then lost in spring training. The left-hander walked Carl Crawford to open the eighth, but struck out Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Aybar to end the threat.

"It was nice to see that," Gardenhire said. "It's needed. We hope to see a lot more of that as we go along."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: April 29, 2009

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