Gardenhire: Morneau talk 'wasn't easy'; Mauer must take on leadership
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At the time -- Aug. 9 -- the red-hot Twins still trailed Detroit by nine games in the loss column, and they also trailed 3-2 heading into the eighth inning. Johan Santana had already finished seven solid innings, striking out 10, but the Twins couldn't afford to miss an opportunity to gain ground on the Tigers with less than two months remaining in the season.
Joe Mauer drew a walk off Tigers reliever Jamie Walker to start the inning. Two batters later, facing flame-throwing Joel Zumaya, Morneau blasted the first pitch he saw high into the right-field seats at Comerica Park to put the Twins up 4-3.
Morneau went on to win the American League MVP, and the Twins went on to track down the Tigers on the final weekend of the season, capping what was easily the most exciting four-month stretch of baseball of the Gardenhire era.
On Saturday in Texas, Morneau was summoned for a meeting with Gardenhire and general manager Terry Ryan -- a meeting he was mentally prepped for, considering the circumstances over the past several weeks. Ryan, who is close with Morneau, broke the news of the trade and expressed gratitude for Morneau's contributions.
"There's so many emotions involved, just because you're sitting with the kid, you call him in... Terry and I were talking to him. It wasn't easy," Gardenhire said on 1500 ESPN.
Gardenhire, who is good friends with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, added, "I was happy. I'm happy that he's going to a pennant race... But we knew (the conversation) wasn't going to be easy if it ever happened. It was a weird feeling in the dugout yesterday before the game started."
With the Pirates looking for a key sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon, Morneau will bat sixth and play first base.
The Twins have lost several vocal leaders over the past few seasons -- Morneau, Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Johan Santana, Carl Pavano -- and they haven't found many qualified leaders to replace them. Miguel Sano has been a vocal leader in the minor leagues, but it'll likely take a while for that side of his character to emerge in the big leagues.
Mauer has mostly been a leader by example, taking professional at-bats and just generally being one of the greatest hitting catchers of all-time.
But Gardenhire said Sunday that Mauer is "going to have to take over this leadership role with Morneau gone... and I think he will."
Beyond Mauer, among Twins position players, it's possible Brian Dozier might be the closest combination of being a quality full-time player and having a vocal personality.
Just another reason why Morneau will be missed.