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Thome's blast ups Twins' lead to four games

Thome's blast ups Twins' lead to four games

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Thome perhaps knows better than anyone the intensity of the rivalry between the Twins and White Sox.

He spent the past four seasons on the Chicago's South Side before coming to Minnesota for the 2010 season after the White Sox decided not to bring him back.

So it seemed that the ending on Tuesday night couldn't have been scripted better when Thome stepped to the plate in the 10th inning against his former team.

Delmon Young led off the 10th inning with a single before Thome stepped to the plate representing the go-ahead run. And a sell-out crowd of 40,714 at Target Field erupted when Thome belted an 0-1 pitch from left-hander Matt Thornton deep into the right-field seats for career home run No. 581 to give the Twins a 7-6 comeback victory over the White Sox and increase their lead in the American League Central race to four games.

As the crowd went crazy, Thome ran down the third-base line and threw his helmet high into the air before eagerly joining his mob of teammates at home plate for what was the first walk-off home run at Target Field.

"For me, it might go down as one of the better games that I've played in," said Thome, with his eyes shining red thanks to the shaving cream pie he received in his postgame interview. "Very exciting."

Walk-off home runs are nothing new for Thome. This was the 12th career game-ending shot for Thome, tying him with Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Babe Ruth for first on the all-time list. But this home run seemed to have more significance, considering what it meant to the Twins in a tight division race.

Minnesota entered Tuesday night's contest holding a three-game lead in the American League Central and for most of the night, it looked like the club would gain more ground against this White Sox team.

The Twins had led, albeit tenuously, since the fifth inning. Young broke a 4-4 tie with his 15th home run of the season. The two-out solo shot off the façade of the second deck in left field gave the Twins a one-run lead and helped ease some of the sting after the Twins had already witnessed a 4-0 lead they built off White Sox starter John Danks in the first inning dissipate at the hands of their starter, Scott Baker.

But there were more ups and downs to come.

Alexei Ramirez provided some damaging blows to the Twins in both the ninth and 10th innings. His solo blast in the ninth off closer Matt Capps forced the game into extra innings, and his RBI single in the 10th off former Twins closer, and now setup man, Jon Rauch gave the White Sox their first lead of the game.

"We had it, we lost it, we had it, we lost it all night long," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

There were some intense moments mixed in the contest as well, no surprise considering the rivalry that has existed between the two teams. In the eighth inning, the two teams both seemed to get agitated. The Twins when reliever Sergio Santos threw near J.J. Hardy's head and Gardenhire felt the ball had hit perhaps Hardy's shoulder. And then Delmon Young showed some aggressiveness when he charged home on a groundout and veered toward White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski to deliver a forearm blow that didn't dislodge the ball from the catcher's mitt.

Still the Twins managed to escape some big jams in the contest. After Ramirez tied the game with his homer in the ninth, Capps had the bases loaded with one out and Paul Konerko at the plate. But Capps got Konerko, who hit his 30th home run in the second inning, to ground into an inning-ending double play and send the game to extras.

So even with a one-run deficit in the 10th, the Twins had the feeling that something special could happen. At least that's what Gardenhire said that Thome told his team on the bench -- that he was going to do something. Sure enough, then came the home run that capped off a memorable win.

"We brought Thome in here for a reason and that's it," Gardenhire said.

"Anytime you play your ex-team, you obviously want to do well," Thome said. "You respect those guys, you know they play hard, but you do want to do well. That's part of that. That's the fun you'll have joking with them afterwards. But there is a lot of respect. They have a nice ballclub and so do we. Credit our team, we've been playing very well and hopefully we can keep this momentum."

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen insisted before the game the Twins haven't gotten into the heads of his players, despite the fact that Minnesota has now won 20 of the last 26 contests between the two. There are only five head-to-head contests left between the two clubs this season, so the White Sox certainly can't afford to dig a deeper hole in this series.

"It isn't going to be easy," said Danks, who managed to pitch seven innings after giving up four runs in the first. "You look at the guys [Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano] we are going up against. At the same time, we have our two horses [Gavin Floyd and Mark Buehrle] going also. It will be a fun couple of games coming up. Hopefully we can win a couple and make it a two-game deficit."

Thome couldn't help but smile after the win. The man who turns 40 on Aug. 27 has been playing like someone much younger. He's been enjoying his new team and the fun the team has been having in the midst of the pennant chase.

The pie in the face was the first one Thome said he could remember receiving in quite some time, but considering the circumstances that led to it, the veteran slugger didn't seem too bothered by the gesture.

"That never gets old," Thome said, adding: "Tomorrow's a new day, but for a little bit here you cherish that moment."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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