Thome, Tolbert power Twins past Rangers
Fill-in third baseman drives in five; slugger swats two homers
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have certainly seen their share of injuries plague the club's lineup in recent days and weeks.Yet just when it seems that those injuries might wind up taking a toll on the club, the Twins have found a way to not let that happen. With Joe Mauer getting a day off to rest his body after a couple long days behind the plate and third baseman Danny Valencia sidelined with a tight right hamstring, the Twins looked to other hitters to help carry the offense, and that's what they did in a 12-4 victory at Target Field on Saturday. Matt Tolbert, who started in place of Valencia at third, hit two triples and drove in a career-high five runs. And Jim Thome delivered a memorable day for the Twins, belting two home runs to move past Mark McGwire into ninth place on the all-time home run list with 584. Coming off six straight one-run games, Minnesota's offense came to life against Texas starter Colby Lewis. A five-run first gave starter Carl Pavano a nice cushion and the club only continued to build on that lead in the early innings, helping the starter pick up his 16th win. The 12-run day also marked the first time the Twins had scored double-digit runs since Aug. 10, when they scored 12 runs at Chicago. "A little bit of a break, a big first inning and get a lead and go from there," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You know you have Carl out there and that he's going to give you a good effort and give you a chance. Finally one of those games where we aren't trying to figure out how to get through the last three innings." The bases were loaded in the first with two outs for J.J. Hardy. After getting down 1-2 to Lewis, Hardy hit a ground-rule double to left-center that scored two runs for a 2-0 lead. Lewis hit Jason Repko with a pitch to load the bases once again before Tolbert hit a bases-clearing triple to right field. "He came up in a lot of big situations and got ahead in the count where they had to come to him," Gardenhire said of Tolbert. "He can hit a little bit. He started for us in the playoffs last year. Been around a little bit and knows how to play. Today was a big day, stayed on the ball and big hits for us." So did Thome, who broke open the game by hitting home runs in back-to-back at-bats in the third and fourth innings. Thome led off the third by blasting a solo shot into the second deck above right-center field. The estimated distance of the home run was 449 feet, the longest recorded homer in Target Field's brief history. Then in the fourth, with two on and two out, Thome hit a drive to left-center that landed in the bullpen and made it 9-0, finishing Lewis' day on the mound. "It's unbelievable watching his swing," said Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton of Thome. "It's fun to watch him hit. He's a professional hitter and he's done it for a long time. Very fun to watch." The feeling certainly is mutual for the Twins. "Anything he does, you just like watching him," said Tolbert. "It kind of doesn't set in that you're playing on a team with a future Hall of Famer." Minnesota's lineup isn't the only area of the club that's taken a beating over recent days. The bullpen was taxed following a 13-inning loss to the Tigers on Thursday night, forcing the club to call up a couple of relievers and a starter from Triple-A Rochester to help providing pitching help. Pavano certainly provided a little extra relief on Saturday, tossing eight innings while allowing three runs on hits. It was the 10th time in 28 starts this season that he has pitched at least eight innings. "It gets them a chance to get a second wind," Pavano said of the bullpen. "I think after[Sunday] we'll be where we need to be as far as having everyone rested, because that one game did wear us out a little bit. " The victory also snapped a three-game losing streak for Pavano, who had not won since Aug. 13 against Oakland. The Twins continued to add offensive support for Pavano late in the contest. Tolbert ripped his second triple of the day in the seventh off reliever Rich Harden, driving in two more runs. Tolbert then scored from third on a wild pitch by Harden. And Tolbert found himself the latest player to be heralded for his contribution, stepping in and not missing a beat filling in for the hot-hitting Valencia. "I've been around long enough to know that's how you win ballgames," Pavano said of efforts like the one Tolbert delivered Saturday. "There are definitely horses that you depend on, but we are all going to need breathers throughout the year. You are going to have injuries and when guys come up and step up like they have, I think that's a big reason why we're in the position we're in right now. It's pretty incredible."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.