Justin Morneau is here. The first baseman arrived in Pittsburgh at approximately 7:50 last night and made it into the Pirates’ dugout sometime between the fifth and sixth inning.
“I knew what the score was. I checked the score when I landed,” Morneau said. “We were listening to it on the radio on the way in.”
When he arrived at the moment, Morneau arrived to an image that will likely be one he never forgets from his time in baseball.
Justin Morneau is starting at first base today, and batting sixth.
“You look up and see the stands full,” Morneau said. “To come in to that situation against a team you’re battling for first place with is pretty special. It’s probably something I’ll never forget.”
On the other side of the coin, now, Pirates fans are hoping Morneau will provide a month of production at first base they will never forget.
“I’m not a guy that really puts numbers on anything, I’m going to do whatever I can every day to help this team win and if it’s moving runners over, trying to get those guys in, trying to make a defensive play to help a pitcher out or whatever it is, that’s all I can control,” Morneau said. “I’m going to prepare and put in the effort that’s required, but whatever it takes to get into the playoffs and get back there because it’s such a special thing.”
Morneau comes off his best month of the season, when he hit .250/.293/.543 with nine home runs. The Pirates expect Morneau to continue his hot hitting, as Neal Huntington received positive reports regarding his adjustments in the second half of the season.
“Our guys have seen a small mechanical adjustment, and we’ve seen tangible reasons for why he’s hit nine home runs in the month of August,” Huntington said. “We’ve got some confidence he’ll be able to continue that going forward, especially as he gets out here to the Clemente Wall.”
Morneau said he spoke with former Pirate and current Minnesota Twin Ryan Doumit about the dimensions of the ballpark.
“He said you’re going to enjoy being able to play there on an every day basis,” Morneau said. “I think it’s probably traditionally a better park for left-handed hitters, and hopefully that’s the case.”
Morneau has posted a .281/.343/.488 triple-slash with 15 home runs against right-handed pitching in 2013, and those numbers should improve with a shorter porch to hit to in right field. Down the line, the right field wall at 320′ is shorter than that in Morneau’s former home stadium of Target Field, whose right field line spanned 328′.
In addition to playing in some friendlier dimensions, Morneau looks forward to playing for Clint Hurdle after a good recommendation from former manager Ron Gardenhire, as well as Larry Walker who played for Hurdle in Colorado.
“He said that was his old roommate, he said I’m going to have fun. I got a text from Larry Walker that said you’re going to enjoy playing for him, he’s a good man,” Morneau said. “I think him and Gardy are very similar, they like to enjoy the game, they like to see the game played the right way.”
On Hurdle’s end, he looks forward to another player with talent as well as a good attitude in the clubhouse.
“[Gardenhire] spoke volumes about his professional approach, his intent, his commitment to the game, conviction still,” Hurdle said. “He talked about this year, talked about the second half, things that are moving forward for him, things are in a good place.”
While Morneau is excited about the opportunity to be a part of the Pirates’ stretch run, he leaves behind a great deal of relationships he built within the organization that drafted him in 1999.
“That’s the only organization I’ve ever known. Terry was the general manager when I was drafted so I’ve known him since I was young, and Gardy’s the only manager I’ve ever known,” Morneau said. “There’s a lot of relationships there, it was tough saying good-bye. Obviously those friendships will last a lifetime.”
What should mitigate the toughness of Morneau leaving the only city he’s played major league baseball for is the environment he entered last night, and will start in front of this afternoon.
“You’re on your way to a team that’s playing in front of a sold-out stadium and playing for the playoffs and the division championship, and all the other fun stuff that you really play this game for,” Morneau said. “It’s something that brought a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion that I haven’t had in a while but I’m excited to be here and I’m excited to have this opportunity.”
Plenty of new faces
Clint Hurdle is throwing all of his new bats in the mix today, with Marlon Byrd, John Buck, and Morneau all starting. All three hitters are next to each other in the order, too, with Byrd hitting fifth and playing left, Morneau sixth, and Buck seventh. At the top of the lineup, Hurdle is batting Neil Walker lead-off and playing Garrett Jones in right field.
The Pirates made Kris Johnson’s recall from Triple-A Indianapolis was made official this morning, and he will start for the Pirates against Joe Kelly(6-3, 2.91). Johnson (0-1, 3.00 ERA pitched in one game earlier this season, the 16-inning affair against Arizona on Aug. 18, and allowed two runs on five hits in six innings pitched. Had he started, Johnson would’ve dealt a quality start with those numbers.
In addition, the Pirates added reliever Kyle Farnsworth and outfielder Travis Snider to the active roster as rosters expanded to 40 players at midnight this morning.
Neil Walker 2B
Garrett Jones RF
Andrew McCutchen CF
Pedro Alvarez 3B
Marlon Byrd LF
Justin Morneau 1B
John Buck C
Jordy Mercer SS
Kris Johnson P
Matt Carpenter 2B
Shane Robinson RF
Matt Holliday LF
Allen Craig 1B
Yadier Molina C
David Freese 3B
Jon Jay CF
Pete Kozma SS
Joe Kelly P