Minneapolis-Target Field needed a walk-off home run and on Tuesday night, in a pivotal game, Jim Thome provided its first in the Twins thrilling 7-6 victory over the visiting Chicago White Sox.
Thome put the stamp on the signature win for the Minnesota Twins with a two-run, mammoth walk-off blast onto Target Plaza in the bottom of the tenth with the team behind 6-5 and in danger of coughing up game one to the White Sox in their three game set. Instead the Twins are now four games up in the AL Central, and the White Sox must feel like they got punched in the gut and slapped in the face at the same time.
The game took many twists and turns, but all that mattered was what happened at the end. Rewriting this article over and over, changing the headline multiple times, adjusting the angle inning by inning, and in the end it all came down to one storyline: Jim Thome exacted sweet revenge on his former team on the game’s final pitch.
He was the story, nothing that happened before mattered. Matt Capps and Jon Rauch combined to give up six hits and two runs in the final two innings and it almost cost the game, doesn’t matter. Six home runs were hit at homer-stingy Target Field, doesn’t matter. Alexei Ramirez was the sure hero, as he not only tied the game in the ninth, but he got the go-ahead run in the tenth, doesn’t matter. All that mattered was the ball leaving Thome’s bat like a shuttle leaving the launch pad.
The game of baseball can be very long and difficult to stay attentive to, especially when they last over three hours like Tuesday night’s classic. But don’t blink because with one swing of the bat, it’s all over, especially when Thome is at the plate.
Seen before the game wearing a Brett Favre jersey, Thome has been ginormous for the Twins this season. His 17 home runs has no doubt been both a blessing, and a huge surprise for the surging team (17-4 in their last 21 games). And tonight he got to show that he still has it against the team that no longer wanted him in the off-season. He was also the difference-maker in Sunday’s nights sweeper over Oakland with a three-run home run.
Thome is now tied for the lead in career walk-off home runs with 12 with the likes of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Jimmie Foxx. I’d say he’s worth every penny of his light 1.5 million salary this season.
Matt Capps blew his second save in six opportunities thanks to a hanging slider that Ramirez deposited into the left field seats to tie the game up 5-5. Capps was able to induce a ground-ball double play with the bases loaded and one out to squeak out of the inning giving up just the one run, but Jon Rauch gave up the go-ahead run on an RBI-single by Ramirez the next inning
Coming into the game, the Twins bullpen had posted a 1.82 ERA against White Sox this season and things appeared to be going according to plan. Glen Perkins did his job in the fifth and sixth, Matt Guerrier was great in the seventh and Jesse Crain continued his dominance in the eighth. Everything was set up for Capps to come in and shut the White Sox down in the ninth, but stories can’t always be so simple. Sometimes they have to end with a bang like they did Tuesday night.
The team wasted no time jumping all over White Sox starter Jon Danks. Orlando Hudson hit a solo home run, Jason Kubel followed with a two-run triple that just missed landing in the trees in center field and Jim Thome had an RBI single to put the Twins up 4-0 after one inning of play.
And Twins starter Scott Baker didn’t waste anytime coughing it right back up. Paul Konerko hit his 30th home run of the season to lead off the second inning and Mark Kotsay followed with a two-run shot to make it 4-3. Three home runs in the first two innings in a park where the ball seldom leaves the yard.
Kubel and Young made fantastic plays in the outfield in the third inning to save Baker from giving up at least a couple more runs. Baker eventually gave up another run in the fourth and finally exited with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth. Glen Perkins came in and got the final out of the inning. Baker threw 91 pitches, giving up four runs on seven hits, including two home runs. Not a very efficient outing to say the least from the Twins opening day starter.
Delmon Young awoke from his slumber at the plate with a monstrous shot (416 ft.) to left field off Danks in the bottom of the fifth to put the Twins back up, 5-4. The Twins left fielder hadn’t hit a home run since July 28, a string of 15 games, and was batting just .196 in the month of August.
J.J. Hardy made his return to the lineup tonight after missing four games due to his lingering wrist injury. He was the only one of the starting nine that didn’t record a hit, but looked good in the field.
Danny Valencia had two doubles to raise his average to .333 this season. Thome and Young had three hits apiece and Hudson, Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span had two hits apiece as the Twins lashed out 16 hits Tuesday night.
The play of the game before Thome’s heroics was no doubt when Young punched A.J. Pierzynski’s face-mask off. Young was on third in the bottom of the eighth and Hardy grounded out to the shortstop, who came home with the throw. Young was coming home on contact and was out by a mile, but that didn’t stop him from throwing his fists at Pierzynski and knocking his face-mask off. Great to see the Twins giving the White Sox a taste of their own, rude medicine.
The Twins are now 19 games over .500, the most they’ve been since August 24, 2008. The most games over .500 they were last season was just 11 games. They are blistering hot right now and are 17-4 in their past 21 games overall.
And the Twins have absolutely owned the White Sox lately, with a 20-6 record in their last 26 games, including a 12-4 record at home. They are 9-4 vs. the White Sox this season, winning six of their last seven.
Great night at Target Field. Excellent weather, entertaining game and a Thome home run that could indeed, when looking back at the end, be the kill shot in Chicago’s season.
Quick stat: Coming into the series with the White Sox, since July 21, Twins starters had posted a record of 17-2 with a 2.34 ERA, while allowing just six home runs. During that span, on eight different occasions Twins starters have pitched 7-plus innings while allowing no runs. The starters have without a doubt come alive in the second half of the season for the Twins and are the main reason the team sits in first place in the AL Central again.
Morneau update: The Justin Morneau concussion saga continues, and I’m eating my words when I said he could be back sometime during this homestand. That will not happen. I got a bit too excited when I heard he was taking batting practice. Ron Gardenhire said there is no timetable for his return, but he was taking early batting practice before Tuesday’s game. It was the first time that the media members had seen him swing a bat since the concussion, so there’s hope. But until he has a good string of symptom free days, he has little chance of playing anytime soon. “I haven’t made it through a day yet without symptoms,” said Morneau. “It feels good when I wake up in the morning, and as the day goes on, it doesn’t feel as good.”
He was off to such an impressive start with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in just 81 games that we might have been talking another MVP season for the All-Star first baseman had the concussion not happened. Now the Twins have to just hope he will be able to make a return sometime in September for the stretch run. Meanwhile, Thome has done a tremendous job replacing the Morneau’s power bat in the Twins lineup.