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Benson flirts with cycle as Twins fall short

September 16, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — With one out in the ninth, Joe Benson figured he had one swing to try to hit the home run he needed for the cycle. After that, he focused on just getting a hit and trying to spark a Twins comeback.

He came close in both regards. Benson missed the homer by just a few feet, and the Twins came up a run shy in a 7-6 loss the Indians on Friday in the series opener at Target Field.

In most ballparks, Benson likely would have gotten the homer for the cycle. Instead, the rookie settled for his first four-hit game as his ninth-inning double hit high off the wall in the gap.

“I knew it wasn’t going to get high enough, but I just wanted to get on base and get a rally going,” Benson said. “I’ve only done that a handful of times in the Minor Leagues, probably two or three. And to [get four hits] up here, it’s part luck with the placement. It feels good though.”

Benson doubled with two out in the second, then singled to lead off the fifth and scored the Twins’ first run later in the inning. Leading off the seventh, Benson hit his first career triple on a low liner to the gap in right-center. He scored two batters later on Ben Revere’s single, and added another run in the ninth after his second double.

Benson has doubled in four of his last five games, and six of his nine hits in the Majors have gone for extra bases. His four hits were the most for a Twins rookie since Danny Valencia also had four against the Royals on July 27, 2010.

“He’s a strong kid,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Tonight you saw a really, really good night where he stayed on the ball [and] drove it all over the place. You saw his speed, the whole package.”

Despite Benson’s best efforts and a late rally by the Twins, they were not able to overcome another poor outing by right-hander Kevin Slowey.

Over four innings, Slowey gave up five runs on seven hits with two strikeouts. Slowey dropped to 0-6 with a 6.51 ERA, becoming the first Twins pitcher to lose six straight games in a season since Boof Bonser dropped eight in a row from June 15-Aug. 18, 2007.

“I just wasn’t able to put anybody away,” Slowey said. “I don’t know that I have the lexicon to adequately describe how disappointed I am in how I threw today, and really how I’ve thrown most of the year to be honest with you. It’s tough, but there’s nothing I can do but come back tomorrow and work hard.”

After a homer in the second by Carlos Santana put Cleveland up 1-0, the Indians added another run in the third before a big third inning cost Slowey. He gave up a leadoff single to Jim Thome and got two out before hitting Shelley Duncan with a pitch.

Lonnie Chisenhall and Lou Marson followed with a pair of singles, with Chisenhall’s hit scoring Thome from second and Marson’s plating a pair of runs.

Aside from a pair of runs on a fielding error in the fifth by Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, the Twins’ offense was unable to do much against Ubaldo Jimenez. Over 6 1/3 innings, Jimenez allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks with four strikeouts.

Though it appeared to be nothing more than an tack-on run at the time, Thome belted a two-out homer in the ninth that proved to be the difference in the game.

“No matter what team you’re on, whenever he walks up to the plate, you’re always interested in watching him,” Gardenhire said. “He got us tonight, but we’ve seen him get lots of people, and he’s gotten us plenty of times before. It’s nice to see him back in town, but I’d still like to end up with a win and shake hands.”

Thome crushed a 2-1 fastball from Twins closer Joe Nathan, his 14th of the season and No. 603 in his career.

As Thome rounded the bases, he received a standing ovation from what remained of the Target Field crowd for the 396-foot blast. It was reminiscent of the scene in Philadelphia when Thome was cheered after a pinch-hit two-run homer off Jose Contreras on June 19, 2010, that sparked the Twins’ 13-10 victory after being down 9-4 in the ninth.

“Anytime you can pick up an extra run, or if you can get two runs in the ninth, you never know,” said Thome, who called being cheered by the opposing crowd “very cool.”

“Sometimes that can be big. It ended up being big. They battled back — credit them. But we played a pretty good ballgame tonight. It’s big to get that win.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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