Twins stretch AL Central lead to 4 thanks to Jim Thome homer in 10th

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Thome slapped hands with both base coaches about as hard as he hit the winning home run. With childlike enthusiasm, he chucked his helmet so high the home plate umpire had to backpedal to avoid it.

By giving the Minnesota Twins a big victory over the Chicago White Sox, Thome's 581st career homer was as satisfying as any of those before it.

Thome's two-run shot in the bottom of the 10th inning -- against the team that decided not to bring him back this season -- sent the Twins to a 7-6 win over the White Sox on Tuesday night to stretch their AL Central lead to four games.

"We brought Thome in here for a reason, and that's one of 'em," said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire, who recalled Thome's declaration on the bench he was going to come through with a clutch hit.

"We were just having fun," Thome said.

Yes, even with his 40th birthday beckoning later this month, Thome is still enjoying this game like a rookie.

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

After Delmon Young's leadoff single against Matt Thornton (3-4), Thome smashed an 0-1 fastball and sent it sailing an estimated 445 feet over the right-field bleachers to send his new team and the fans at sold-out Target Field into a frenzy. He got the obligatory head-slapping at home plate and shaving-cream pie during the post-game interview.

"Any time you play your ex-team, you obviously want to do well," Thome said.

Alexei Ramirez hit the tying home run in the ninth inning and the go-ahead RBI single in the 10th, as Twins relievers Matt Capps and Jon Rauch gave up three hits each in the last two innings. Ron Mahay (1-1) was the winner.

Paul Konerko, who earlier became the second player in the league to reach 30 homers this season, grounded into a double play after the White Sox loaded the bases in the ninth following Ramirez's homer.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen insisted before the game the Twins don't have a mental edge over his team, but they're on some impressive runs against the Sox: 20-6 overall and 12-4 at home.

How will the Sox overcome the latest devastating loss? They've blown five games since the All-Star break with a lead in the eighth inning or later.

"Have a couple of drinks and come back tomorrow and fight," Guillen said.

The Twins are 23-7 in their last 30 games, and the White Sox are 15-16 in their last 31. The teams have just five more meetings this year.

"I will take that matchup again," Guillen said.

Thornton would too.

"The only thing that stings is the fact that our offense battled all night and we couldn't pull it out," he said. "That's the only thing that hurts for me. It doesn't matter who hit the home run."

White Sox starter John Danks recovered from a four-run first inning to finish seven frames, and the Twins had two runners -- including Thome -- thrown out at the plate. Young's fifth-inning homer gave them the lead back at 6-5.

Chicago's relievers have given up 18 earned runs in their last 20 2/3 innings. That's not the way to climb back in the race.

"We know we can do it. We've had some really good runs this year," Thornton said. "We've just had about a two week period where we're not playing very good baseball. It's just a matter of getting back in the groove."

Minnesota's bullpen was cruising until Capps came in, retiring 10 of 11 batters in relief of Scott Baker. Glen Perkins, in his first appearance at Target Field, got Mark Kotsay to ground out with the bases full to finish the fifth and stranded A.J. Pierzynski following a leadoff double in the sixth. Kotsay is 0 for 22 against lefties this year.

The division continues to revolve around this rivalry, and it's still intense despite the turnover on both teams and Guillen's constant praise for the Twins. Young proved that in the eighth inning when he charged home on a groundout and veered toward chief agitator and White Sox catcher Pierzynski to deliver a forearm shiver that didn't dislodge the ball from the catcher's mitt.

Game notes
Justin Morneau's swing looked strong during batting practice, but he still feels post-concussion symptoms so the Twins have no timetable for his return. "The more he gets out there on the field and tells us he's feeling ready, then that's when we'll start talking to him about something else. We're just letting him do his thing," Gardenhire said. ... The Twins had a 10-game run without allowing a homer at Target Field end. Konerko went deep on each end of the streak. ... Guillen was noncommittal about the return of Bobby Jenks to the closer role. Jenks, who's been bothered by back spasms, avoided the DL and is expected to be available this series.