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Updated: July 17th, 2011 3:44pm
Twins Daily: Climb continues as Thome's blast highlights win over KC

Twins Daily: Climb continues as Thome's blast highlights win over KC

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Thome's three-run blast highlighted a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday that pulled the Minnesota Twins (44-49) to within five games of .500 for the first time since April 28.

The skinny

Dealing with a sore toe as of late, and oblique, back and quad issues earlier in the season, Thome's presence in the Twins' lineup has not been nearly as consistent in 2011 as it was last season.

But his three-run bomb in the bottom of the fourth inning off Royals right-hander Felipe Paulino was the difference maker on Sunday.

"It was a close ballgame, it was a tie ballgame, and you know it's smoking (hot) out there, and (Thome) gives you a three-run lead," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Gave everybody a chance to stand up and air out."

Pitching in the sweltering heat, starter Brian Duensing went 6 1/3, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, striking out two and walking nobody.

Glen Perkins pitched a clean eighth inning, and Joe Nathan locked down his fifth save of the season with a scoreless ninth.

The Twins' top three hitters -- Ben Revere, Alexi Casilla and Joe Mauer -- combined to go 6-for-10 with a walk and three runs scored.

Turning point

Tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Twins wasted an opportunity to post a crooked numbers after putting runners on first and third with nobody out. Michael Cuddyer struck out swinging on a 97-mph fastball by Paulino, and Thome bounced weakly into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

Faced with a similar scenario in the sixth -- two on and two out -- Thome didn't disappoint, turning on a 3-2 slider by Paulino and launching it an estimated 490 feet into the right-center upper deck to put the Twins up 4-1.

"He has a great arm," Thome said of Paulino. "I was very impressed with his stuff. He threw me some good changeups, he threw sliders, he threw fastballs, but they were up in the zone. He got me chasing there my first couple of at-bats, and fortunately I got a slider that he put in the middle of the plate."

The Target Field crowd exploded as soon as the ball came off Thome's bat, and the ovation continued into Delmon Young's at-bat.

"Ridiculous. I mean, I stood immediately," Duensing said about the dugout reaction. "I knew it was gone when he hit it. I didn't know it was going to go that far. That's why it's so fun watching him hit, because you just never know when it's going to happen. When he gets 'em, usually they're in big situations or very large home runs. Today was both."

Numbers game

596: Career home runs for Thome. "I realize I'm probably not a guy that's going to play every day anymore, and I know my role," said Thome, who is now hitting .221/.346/.442 on the season. "The days that I don't play, I also have to be ready for a big pinch hit, so I try to do that."

485: Career RBIs for Mauer, who tied Roy Smalley for 11th on the Twins' all-time list. Mauer went 2-for-3 with two singles and a walk.

652: Days since the last time Nathan tallied back-to-back saves. It has also been 652 days since the last time Nathan pitched in three consecutive major league games. With a doubleheader looming Monday, the Twins will gauge Nathan's availability on Monday morning. "I know we're going to need all hands on deck I'm sure, with two games," Nathan said. "But I haven't gotten a chance to talk to (pitching coach Rick Anderson). I'm sure it's just going to be see how I feel (Monday), because obviously this is uncharted territory since the surgery. So (I'll) do what I can today to take care of it. But I know how important (Monday) is, not just with the team we're playing, but having 18 innings to cover."

4-1: The Twins' record against the Cleveland Indians this season, with the only loss coming in a 1-0 game on June 7. The Twins and Indians will play four games in three days, beginning with a doubleheader on Monday.

15: The number of games Cleveland sat above .500 on May 23 (30-15). After falling 8-3 to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday, the Indians are now 19-29 since May 23.

14: Different players played on the disabled list this season for the Twins.

Health report

• Gardenhire watched Sunday's game from the clubhouse due to dehydration and a lingering viral infection.

• OF Denard Span (concussion) was scheduled to play five innings in centerfield for Triple-A Rochester on Sunday in his first rehab game since suffering a concussion in Kansas City on June 3.

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained foot) will DH in the same game as he resumes a rehab assignment that began two weeks before the All-Star break.

• RHP Scott Baker (right flexor muscle) was placed on the 15-day disabled list because he didn't feel comfortable enough with his strained right elbow to make his scheduled start on Monday.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) will make his next start on Wednesday for Triple-A Rochester.

Overheard

"Sorry, sorry, sorry ... "
-- Tsuyoshi Nishioka, strolling through the clubhouse after Japan defeated the United States in the Women's World Cup Final.

"I'm not going to win any races. I never did anyway."
-- Thome, when asked about the status of his sore big toe.

"There's a big difference of opinion here ... I always consider Gibson."
-- Gardenhire, when asked if the team considered recalling right-hander Kyle Gibson instead of left-hander Scott Diamond.

On deck

The Twins welcome the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians to town Monday for a four-game series, beginning with a day/night doubleheader (12:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN).

The Twins were originally scheduled to send Baker (7-5, 3.01) to the mound in Game 1 to face lefty David Huff, who will be called up from Triple-A to make his first major league start of the season. But with Baker being placed on the 15-day disabled list, the rotation has been tweaked.

Instead, Anthony Swarzak (2-2, 3.38) will be moved up from the nightcap to start the day game. Swarzak pitched six innings against the White Sox last Sunday, giving up four hits and one earned run, and he has allowed three earned runs or fewer in three of his four starts this season.

Left-hander Scott Diamond will make his major league debut in Game 2 (7:10 p.m., 1500 ESPN) against right-hander Fausto Carmona (4-10, 5.78), who will be activated from the disabled list after being sidelined since July 3 with a strained right quadriceps.

Carmona's 5.78 ERA is the worst mark of all qualified major league starters, but current, active Twins hitters hit just .255/.349/.346 against the sinkerballer. Joe Mauer is the one hitter with great success against Carmona -- .360/.484/.440 with two doubles in 31 trips.

Coming up

• Tuesday: vs. Cleveland, 7:10 p.m. LHP Francisco Liriano (6-7, 4.76) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (8-6, 2.80).
• Wednesday: vs. Cleveland, 12:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (7-6, 3.99) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (11-4, 4.03).
• Thursday: vs. Detroit, 12:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (6-6, 4.08) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (12-5, 2.29).

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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