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Twins get better of this deal

Morneau (5 hits) shines as Red Sox and Ortiz falter

Twins general manager Terry Ryan was chewing on a cheeseburger in the press dining lounge before last night's 7-3 win over the Red Sox when a scribe asked about a subject that probably ruined his meal.

``Plain and simple, it was a bad decision," Ryan said when asked about releasing David Ortiz Dec. 16, 2002. ``I just made a bad decision. It was me. Nobody else is to blame. If I knew he was going to be first, second, or third in the MVP voting the last three years, I certainly wouldn't have released him."

He probably shouldn't kick himself too hard. In fact, Lou Gorman was sitting right beside him, trying to comfort him by mentioning that he's still reminded about Jeff Bagwell.

While he gave up a DH who wasn't the David Ortiz we now see in a Sox uniform (Big Papi hit .272 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs in 2002), he more than made up for it with another move or two. Think the Giants are kicking themselves for acquiring catcher A.J. Pierzynski from the Twins for Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser a year later? Probably.

Watching the game from the press box last night, Ryan probably digested his meal pretty well while watching his own MVP candidate, Justin Morneau, go 5 for 5 with an RBI and two runs. Ortiz, who was sick with the flu, went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, including one against closer Nathan to end the game. Ortiz remains one home run shy of Jimmie Foxx's team record of 50.

Morneau put on a hitting clinic to raise his average to .326, stroking a pair of doubles among his five hits, which were scattered around the ballpark.

``It seemed like I came up there and had a chance" Morneau said. ``Especially in that last at-bat [an RBI double in the ninth]. I walk up there and [Doug] Mirabelli's trying to jinx me.

``Walked up to the plate, got in the box, and he said, `You ever had five hits in a game?' I just looked at him and said, `You just had to do that, didn't you?' I started laughing and he was laughing. He said, `I've got to try something.' Then, I got a hit. Made me smile. Pretty superstitious."

Torii Hunter, who hit a two-run homer off Tim Wakefield in the third inning to make it 6-0, lauded, ``Five for five. He was Ichiro today. One RBI, 5 for 5. He was a big Ichiro."

Morneau is the kind of player who helps make up for the fact that Big Papi was let go.

``David is a heck of a guy, and I know he wasn't too happy with me when I called him to tell him the bad news," said Ryan. ``He was very happy being with our group of guys. He wanted to stay with that group."

Ortiz seemed looser than he had been in days, relieved to be out of New York, where he avoided reporters all weekend after his infamous comments about Derek Jeter and the MVP award.

Asked if he was glad to be out of New York, he said, ``Hell, yeah!"

Though he was feeling ill, Ortiz was willing to speak after a tough night at the plate, mostly against rookie Matt Garza.

Asked if he were pressing so he could hit the milestone homers at home against his former team, Ortiz said, ``I swung at strikes. I chased one pitch that was a ball."

Ryan would love to have Ortiz in a lineup with Morneau, Joe Mauer, and Hunter. But, in retrospect, he said Ortiz was approaching arbitration eligibility, and his salary ($950,000 in 2002) was starting to rise for a DH who had good production but not MVP-type numbers.

``I do think that Fenway was a better ballpark for him than the Metrodome," said Ryan. ``He was hitting a lot of fly balls to the warning track at the Metrodome. But having said all that . . ."

Besides Hunter's homer, the No. 9 hitter, shortstop Jason Bartlett, slammed a rare Wakefield fastball (74 miles per hour, on a 1-and-2 count) into the Monster seats for a three-run homer in the second inning to top off an eight-pitch at-bat. Rondell White had singled in Morneau with the first Twins run earlier in the inning.

The Sox began a modest comeback in the fifth and sixth innings, scoring three runs on an Alex Gonzalez sacrifice fly in the fifth and run-producing hits by Eric Hinske and Mirabelli in the sixth.

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