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Touch 'em all

Morneau set to end Minnesota's 30-homer drought

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

Chatting casually in Minnesota's clubhouse the other day, Torii Hunter looked up from his chair and asked the question that keeps coming up around here.

"When was the last time the Twins had someone hit 30 home runs?"

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The 31-year-old center fielder has come close, but never surpassed that mark. Neither have any of his teammates.

In fact, the last time Minnesota had anyone pass 30 home runs was 1987, when Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky and Gary Gaetti each did, powering the Twins to their first World Series title.

The drought that ensued is by far the longest in the majors. And it looks like it's about to end. "Can't get here fast enough," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Justin Morneau, who has the kind of pop to finally put it to rest, is tired of the questions, too. Riding a remarkable tear that began in early June and coincided with the Twins' resurgence into postseason contention, Morneau brought some MVP-worthy statistics into Friday night's game at Kansas City: A batting average of .320, 28 homers and 91 RBIs.

With 55 games left, the 25-year-old first baseman should have no problem getting past 30, and he's been hitting like he won't stop there.

"If it happens, it happens," Morneau said. "If I stay healthy, there's no reason it can't be done. But nothing's for sure. I'm just more worried about winning games."

The curious part about this long absence of a legitimate power threat is that it hasn't prevented Minnesota from winning. The Twins were World Series champions again in 1991, and took AL Central titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Certainly, the presence of a big-swinging slugger could have pushed them further in those recent postseason appearances, but they've generally been good enough on defense, deep enough in the starting rotation, strong enough in the back of the bullpen and reliable enough as situational hitters to overcome a lack of the long ball.

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"We've had power guys," Gardenhire said. "We just haven't had that one guy go way, way up there."

For the past several years, Morneau has been the player the organization has pegged as that guy. A third-round draft pick in 1999 out of New Westminster Secondary School in British Columbia, the lanky Canadian never hit more than 16 homers in the minors until his home run stroke started to come in 2003.

He showed flashes during stints with Minnesota in 2003 and 2004, too, and in 2005 entered his first full major league season with expectations that proved too high. Morneau hit only .239 and finished with 22 homers and 79 RBIs.

Eager to improve on that, though, he has flourished this summer.

"The great thing about watching him now is that he's not solely possessed with hitting home runs," Gardenhire said. "He's a hitter, and he's a really good one. He's using the field, driving the ball all over the place."

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