Minnesota didn’t know what to expect from Justin Morneau to begin the season, playing him at designated hitter instead of first base to avoid aggravating concussion symptoms and watching as he hit just .206 with a .623 OPS through nine games.
However, on Monday he felt good enough to play first base for the first time and Morneau also homered in that game. And then last night he homered again … and again.
Morneau went 3-for-4 with two homers versus the Yankees, which was his first multi-homer game since May 31, 2011. And in his fifth plate appearance manager Joe Girardi issued an intentional walk to Morneau, which was his first since June 1, 2011.
He’s hardly out of the woods yet, but for a guy who’s missed most of the past two seasons with concussions and multiple other injuries Morneau’s last 48 hours have been extremely encouraging. Overall for the season he’s now hitting .279 with four homers, two doubles, and a .945 OPS in 11 games.
James Paxton of the Mariners is 3-0 with a 1.39 ERA, 39 strikeouts and only six walks in 32.1 innings of work over five starts. Last night he shut the Tigers down, tossing seven shutout innings, striking out nine and allowing only four hits. With Felix Hernandez looking less than king-like lately, Paxton is asserting himself as the new ace of the Seattle staff.
And now the tall Canadian native has a nickname to match his ace-like status:
“Pax was really outstanding and we certainly needed it,” manager Scott Servais said of the Canadian southpaw. “Big Maple is what he was nicknamed tonight and I kind of like that. He was awesome.”
“Big Maple” is a fantastic nickname. That’s the sort of nickname guys used to get back when nicknames were great. Before managers just put “y” at the end of dudes’ names and before the “First Initial-First Three Letters of The Last Name” convention took hold in the wake of A-Rod.
“Big Maple.” That makes me smile. I’m gonna be smiling all dang day because of that.
I mentioned this in the recaps this morning, but I think it deserves it’s own special place. Get what went down in the second inning of last night’s Rays-O’s game:
Ryan Flaherty was on first with Seth Smith up to bat. Smith hit a single to center. Flaherty, who was running with the pitch, was making for third base. All-world defender Kevin Kiermaier tried to gun him down but threw wildly to third, causing Flaherty to break for home.
Pitcher Alex Cobb had the play backed up, however! He got the ball near the dugout. Flaherty scampered back to third and Cobb tried to throw him out. The ball hit Flaherty’s helmet, richocheting into left field, allowing both Flaherty and Smith — who had stopped at first and then stopped at second, like a kid at tee ball or something — to come around and score.
I still think the Rays walking home the winning run on four pitches in the 11th inning was worse, but this looked worse.
Oh well: the Rays get the day off today and tomorrow, of course, is another day.