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They're a sweet combo, but don't call them M#x0026;M; yet

MINNEAPOLIS --

Suffering from a slight case of cart-ahead-of-the-horse syndrome, a Twin Cities major daily newspaper (located east of the Mississippi River) has already dubbed Twins youngsters Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the "M&M; Boys."

Of course, baseball historians -- I'm 34 years old, so historians are classified as baseball fans who followed the game before 1978 -- explain the original M&M; boys were a couple of pinstripers named Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

Mantle hit 54 homers in 1961, and 536 in his Hall of Fame career. Maris, who was born in Hibbing, hit 61 in 1961, and 275 in his career.

The Twins' version of the M&Ms; still trails the Yankees' dynamic duo. Mantle and Maris combined for 811 career home runs. After Friday's home opening 5-1 loss to the White Sox, Mauer and Morneau have combined for 517 career at-bats.

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At 22 years old, Mauer, the Twins No. 1 draft pick in 2001, is clearly the Twins' best hitter for average and one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Morneau, who turns 24 in a month, is clearly the Twins' best power hitter. Throw in rookie shortstop Jason Bartlett, and the Twins entered the season with their 2-3-4 hitters posting a combined 157 games played on their resume.

But sticking the M&M; label on the Twins' toddlers would be like anointing me as the next pope because I helped an old lady across the street yesterday.

Neither the Twins coaching staff nor their public relations folks can be blamed for over-hyping Mauer and Morneau. It was a Minnesota newspaper trying to be cute.

When it comes to the Twins' brightest two stars, manager Ron Gardenhire is trying to protect, not promote them.

Entering the season-opening six-game homestand, health -- not high averages or home runs -- was the topic whenever Mauer or Morneau was mentioned.

With Mauer, it's his knee. With Morneau, it's his head.

In Seattle, Mauer started two of three games. Gardenhire plans on implementing the same plan behind the plate this weekend with Mauer starting two games, then resting on Sunday.

"We're going to go as we see fit," Gardenhire said. "He'll be catching the first two (games in the series) so I'll mix in someone else in the Sunday night game. We're going to protect him as much as we can early."

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Gardenhire was asked if he has any concerns about Mauer's health.

"None whatsoever," he said.

As Bill Cosby said in his classic Noah's Ark skit: "Riiiiiiight."

Gardenhire's lack of concern about Mauer must be the reason the team brought four catchers including a guy named Corky north from Fort Myers to keep on their major league 25-man roster.

As he has said 14,000 times in the last week or so, his knee is fine.

"Everything's going good," Mauer said. "It gets better and better every inning when I catch, so that's good."

Morneau can't say the same. He battled appendicitis, pneaumonia and pleurisy in the offseason, and during spring training underwent surgery to remove a lymph node from the area where he had his appendectomy incision. On Thursday against Seattle, Morneau was plunked in the head and taken to the hospital for precautionary measures.

He was still out of the lineup Friday. "If he's ready to go, we'll go," Gardenhire said. "If he needs more time, that's what I'll give him.

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"I want to put him on deck even if he's dizzy, just to scare the (@#$%) out of Ozzie," Gardenhire said, referring to White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen.

Morneau might not be in the lineup for a while. He woke up Friday morning feeling dizzy -- 48 hours after getting beaned. Even late Friday night, he still couldn't put his hat on because of the tenderness of the bruise.

"I haven't been dizzy before," Morneau said.

Throughout his baseball career he has never been hit in the head before.

"I'm sure there will be concern once I do get in there," he said. "I hope I can get over it quick."

The Twins hope so, too, considering their offense's future and present rest on Mauer's and Morneau's shoulders... and Mauer's sensitive knee... and Morneau's welted head.

Troy Young is a sports writer for the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached at tyoung@postbulletin.com

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