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Thome's clutch blast ends duel, stretches lead

Thome's clutch blast ends duel, stretches lead

CLEVELAND -- Jim Thome has delivered big home runs throughout his illustrious 20-year career, but no matter how many he has hit, the excitement of producing a key long ball hasn't diminished. And on Saturday night, he managed to belt career home run No. 587 at perhaps the most opportune time for the Twins.

Thome broke a scoreless tie in the top of the 12th inning and passed Frank Robinson for sole possession of eighth place on the all-time list with his one-out home run to lift the Twins to a 1-0 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field.

"Any time you can hit a home run and it helps your ballclub win, it means a lot, especially this time of year," said Thome. "September is always a fun month when you are in a pennant race.

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"We were just trying to scratch out any kind of run and to see the ball go out of the park is pretty special."

On a 2-0 pitch from Justin Germano with one out in the 12th, Thome snapped the Twins' 21-inning scoreless streak by belting a towering shot into the Indians bullpen in center field.

Thome returned to the lineup on Saturday after having missed two consecutive games with a mild abdominal strain. Despite the absence, Thome didn't skip a beat, homering for the fifth time in his last four games.

"We got beat by one of the greatest home run hitters in history," Indians manager Manny Acta said.

Matt Capps got three outs for his 12th save in 14 chances with the Twins and secured the victory that pushed the Twins' lead in the American League Central race back to six games.

The Twins were on the verge of missing an opportunity to pick up a game on the Chicago, who lost, 8-2, to the Royals, as their contest dragged into extra innings with neither team being able to score.

Saturday's start time was delayed for an hour and 50 minutes due to rain, but both starting pitchers got off to a good pace, cruising through the opposition and not allowing many offensive opportunities.

Twins starter Nick Blackburn held the Indians hitless for five innings. The right-hander gave up his first hit when Lou Marson led off the sixth with an infield single to second baseman Orlando Hudson. It was one of only five hits that Blackburn allowed over eight scoreless innings while walking two and striking out three.

And in four starts since returning to the rotation after a brief stint in the Minors, Blackburn is 2-1 with a 1.76 ERA.

"He threw the ball fantastic," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Blackburn. "You just hoped we could get him a win. You can't do better than what he did."

For as good as Blackburn was, Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco nearly matched him in his third Major League start of the season. One night after Fausto Carmona shut down the Twins in a three-hit shutout, the club struggled to get anything going against Carrasco, who pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings.

The Twins' best scoring opportunity off Carrasco came in the fourth. Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel hit back-to-back singles with no outs in the inning. Michael Cuddyer grounded into a double play but Thome followed with a two-out walk to put runners at the corners. Delmon Young grounded out to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to strand both runners.

In the seventh, it appeared for a moment that the Indians may have scored the first run of the contest when Jason Donald's one-out squeeze bunt brought Travis Hafner home. However Donald was called for batter's interference after the ball bounced up and hit his hand as he ran outside of the batter's box. Hafner was sent back to third base and Luis Valbuena then popped out to Hudson to end the threat.

But with neither team able to capitalize on opportunities, the game kept going as both teams' pitching staffs managed to come up with critical outs.

After the seventh, neither team really put together a scoring threat until the 11th inning. The Twins had back-to-back two-out singles in the top half of the inning, but it was the Indians that looked to have put Minnesota in a jam.

Left-hander Randy Flores started the frame for the Twins and gave up back-to-back singles to Shin-Soo Choo and Hafner. Guerrier replaced Flores and got the first out when he fielded Jayson Nix's bunt and fired to third base. With one out and runners on first and second, Guerrier retired the next two batters in order to get out of the jam and eventually earn the win.

Heading into the 12th with the game still tied, the Twins were looking for a lift and it was Thome who provided it with the one big swing of his bat. At the ballpark that Thome once called home, there were a surprising number of cheers when his home run landed in the bullpen to deliver the dagger to the Indians on this night.

For the Twins, this will certainly be one of those great moments as the club avoided being shut out by the Indians in back-to-back games for the first time since May 3-4, 1968, and managed to pull off a victory in a game that could have just as easily slipped away.

"It didn't look like either one of us was going to score for 50 innings," Gardenhire said.

"We've scored one run in 20-something innings here. That's not going to win you too many games and we're 1-1, so I think we feel pretty fortunate."

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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