Morneau, Martin: together again

* 1B Justin Morneau (New Westminster, BC) and C Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) at odds over the Team Canada roster this spring, wear the same uniform in post-season play. The two played on the 2006 and 2009 WBC entry, but Martin chose not to catch in March, wanting to play shortstop. The Pirates said no way.  ....   

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By Bob Elliott

St. LOUIS _ The first thing Justin Morneau did when Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan informed him he’d been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 31 was to text Bucs catcher Russell Martin.

“Need a roomie?”

Morneau, along with Brett Lawrie and others, had knocked Martin for his late choice to bail on catching for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March. Martin wanted to play shortstop.

Neither the Pirates nor Team Canada agreed to that.

All is forgotten in a pennant race.

Or in October.

The Pirates may needed short memories to forget their 9-1 thumping at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday in the opener of the National League division series.

“That’s it,” said centre fielder Andrew McCutchen. “Not every game is going to be close. It sucks that it wasn’t close, but it’s better to be Game 1 than Game 5. We got our butts whipped but it might be a good thing. We can show up (Sunday), shake it off, get our rest, and come back.”

Right-hander Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner, was impressive allowing three hits, including a solo homer to Pedro Alvarez, in his dominant seven innings.

“His curve ball was basically the difference, he got ahead with his curve,” said McCutchen, who could have added A.J. Burnett didn’t have his, but didn’t. “(Wainwright) got a lot of swing and misses on his curve. If we had been able to lay off that pitch, it might have been a different game. If it happens there is a Game 5, we’ll know what to do.”

The Pirates bounced back to win Game 2 by a lopsided 7-1 score.

Homerless in his first 27 games wearing a Pirates uniform, Morneau came close Friday afternoon.

Morneau hit a first-pitch breaking ball Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn off the top of the wall in left centre as he was in the midst of two, two-run Pittsburgh Pirates rallies during their 7-1 win evening the series.

The former Twins MVP scored in the fifth when Marlon Byrd doubled as Martin later singled home Byrd for the first of his two RBIs. And Morneau singled to left centre in the third, trotting home on Alvarez's homer.

“Pedro has been swinging the bat well, it’s nice to do my share,” said Morneau, “but at this time of year all that matters is winning. I’m having good at-bats. I can’t really control where I hit the ball.”

Morneau was impressed with his starter Cole Gerrit, calling him a bulldog, “out there attacking hitters, really going right at ‘em.”

“The confidence he has, the way he handles himself reminds me of Justin Verlander,” said Morneau. “The biggest thing is that early he’s throwing 93, 94 mph and all of a sudden you look up and he’s hitting 98, 99. That’s the way Verlander was and is now. He can sense the times when he needs that (extra velocity), Gerrit is like that too. We’re definitely lucky to have him.”

While Morneau said it was fun it is to watch Cole pitch, it was as much fun to watch him hit.

“He’s a guy you want up with men in scoring position,” said Morneau. “He’s a gamer, a ball player, a guy who doesn’t assume because he’s a pitcher he’s not supposed to drive in runs.”

Cole is 4-for-8 with runners in scoring position, driving in six runs in those at-bats.

Morneau knows noise.

The Twin was in the Metrodome for post-season play in 2004, 2006 and 2009.

And he was injured when the Twins played outdoors at Target Field in 2011.

“PNC was a great atmosphere for our wild-card game,” said Morneau, as the Bucs returned home to host the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the best-of-five National League division series.

“The dome contained the sound, but the intensity against the Reds was different, you could tell people have been waiting a long time to cheer.”

Lefty Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02) will try to duplicate his success in the wild-card win (one run in seven innings) against right-hander Joe Kelly (10-5, 2.69).

Morneau is 3-for-9 with a double in his first two games, while Martin is 1-for-6 with a pair of RBIs, catching every inning.

“There weren’t many pitchers that he didn’t know, hadn’t had actual game experience against and there’s only a snapshot of guys he’s faced before over here,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “The ability to counter punch sometimes from the offensive standpoint can challenging, especially facing good pitching. The month of September when he came over, there’s a lot at stake. You’re seeing better arms.

“He’s always going to be a left-hander against a left-hander. He’s continued to improve. The work will always be there. The effort will always be there. The focus and the preparation will always be there. Some familiarity is starting to take place. We’re seeing better swings.”

The Cards were 3-7 at PNC this year with Kelly having one of the wins, pitching six scoreless in a 13-0 win Aug. 1.

“I haven’t pitched a ton of games here,” Kelly told reporters. “Obviously the dimensions are different. It’s not like the NBA where every park is the same, every court is the same. It’s hard to tell. Small sample size.  I mean, it doesn’t change in any way different than I pitch here than at home. I’m going to try to go after these guys and get as many quick outs as I can.”