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Monroe presses Tigers in Central battle

As Monroe goes, so do Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- Craig Monroe's home run trots always involve a small show of emotion.

But in his sprint around the bases following his three-run homer in the fourth inning of the Twins' 6-4 victory over the Tigers on Tuesday night, Monroe carried a little more spring in his step than usual.

A combination of the early-season frustrations in his new bench role, plus facing the team that released him last season led to Monroe's special trot, as well as a spirited celebration in the dugout.

Clearly this one meant something special.

"To be in Detroit and be a Tiger for a long time, the respect for my ex-teammates is always there," Monroe said. "But the desire to go out and do something against them burns inside too. So it's great to get the opportunity to do something special against that team and more importantly, to do it for the Minnesota Twins."

A lead that, unlike the night before, the Twins would not relinquish -- although the Tigers did make an effort at a comeback.

Twins starter Scott Baker looked dominant early in his outing, retiring 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. But the Twins weren't able to give him any support despite six batters reaching base over the first three innings. That included Carlos Gomez reaching third base in the first inning with no outs. However, a late jump by Gomez off the bag on a ground ball to first base proved costly when he was thrown out at home on what turned into a double-play ball.

After allowing a one-out hit to Carlos Guillen, Baker gave up a double in the ensuing at-bat to Marcus Thames to put runners on first and third. That's when Baker made a wild pitch to Matt Joyce, allowing Guillen to score from third.

In a series that has already seen its share of intense moments, the Twins were looking for a momentum shift of their own.

It came in the bottom half of the fourth inning when Monroe came to the plate for the second time against Detroit starter Nate Robertson. With runners on first and second, Monroe took a 2-1 fastball to deep center for his eighth home run of the season.


"This is a new chapter in my career. I've got to find a way to be a better bench player. Right now I think I'm starting to take the steps in the right direction."
-- Craig Monroe

"He knocked the living fire out of it," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's been working really hard ... I'm sure he would like to be playing and hitting a lot more. But you've got to keep working because everybody has a role. It was a big home run, a big lift."

Monroe has altered his swing in recent weeks, dropping his trademark leg kick and focusing on limiting the movement in his swing. It's helped Monroe overall at the plate and particularly against lefties.

The Twins traded for Monroe this past November to get a player who could hit lefties -- Monroe had a career .273 batting average against southpaws.

But early this season Monroe has struggled in that role, hitting just .103 vs. lefties with one home run. Numbers that he believes now will start coming around.

"All these things you talk about, being a good bench player, I wasn't allowing myself to do it," Monroe said. "I was having so much success having the high leg kick and being in there every day. But this is a new chapter in my career. I've got to find a way to be a better bench player. Right now I think I'm starting to take the steps in the right direction."

The homer was one of two hits that Monroe would tally in the contest. Monroe singled to left field in his first at-bat off Robertson (6-7) and nearly hit his second home run of the game, pulling it just foul, when he faced right-hander Zach Miner in the fifth inning.

It isn't the only success Monroe has had against his former club. The 2-for-3 night with a walk brought Monroe's average against Detroit this season to .389 (7-for-18) with two homers and six RBIs.

"There is obviously some revenge there he would like to have a bit [against them]," Baker said. "I'm thankful to see him in the lineup every time I'm out there and play these guys. I know he's going to do the best he can and put some good swings on the ball."

The Twins added on to their lead with a three-run fifth inning. Alexi Casilla delivered an RBI double to left field. Mike Redmond's single up the middle then scored two more runs, making it a 6-1 ballgame.

That long fifth inning took a toll on Baker (5-2). When he came back out for the sixth -- his final inning -- Gardenhire said the pitcher's velocity was down a touch and he appeared a bit fatigued. Baker also was leaving a few pitches up, including the one that Thames hit for a two-run homer in the inning.

It seemed at the time like the start of another trademark Detroit comeback.

"There are a few of those teams in this league [where no lead is safe]," Gardenhire said. "Detroit is definitely one of them. They just have so many professional hitters and players and guys with a lot of at-bats in this league. They just keep coming at you."

The Tigers diminished Minnesota's lead to two in the eighth when Brian Bass allowed one run. But Dennys Reyes got the final out of the inning and Joe Nathan came in to record a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 23rd save of the season.

Squeaking out the victory didn't erase the fact that the Twins had plenty of chances to break the game open. Against Robertson, 13 of the 22 batters he faced reached base, but only six of them would score.

The Twins also loaded the bases in the sixth inning with one out, only for Redmond to ground into a double play. It was one of five on the night for the Twins, which tied a club record.

"We easily could have scored way more runs than we did," Redmond said. "We played a little sloppy, too. But you still have to win those ballgames even when you don't play great. And tonight, we did."

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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