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Thome’s mammoth blast, No. 596, lifts Twins

July 17, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Not many people can hit a baseball farther than Jim Thome.

In the sixth inning on Sunday, he reminded everyone of that fact by crushing home run No. 596 into the second deck in right field, a blast that was measured at 490 feet.

Thome’s seventh home run of the season propelled the Twins to a 4-3 win over the Royals in the series finale.

Thome’s three-run shot topped his previous Target Field record blast of 480 feet, which hit off the flag pole beyond right field last September.

“He clocked it, I heard,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who has been battling an illness and was forced to watch the game from the clubhouse.

It was not Thome’s longest career home run — he once hit a 511-foot blast with the Indians that remains the longest in the history of Progressive Field. That home run, on July 3, 1999, also came against the Royals.

Of course, 490 feet is still a pretty impressive blast.

“Ridiculous. I stood up immediately,” Twins starter Brian Duensing said. “I knew it was gone when he hit it; I didn’t know it was going to go that far.

“That’s why it’s so fun watching him hit, because you never know when it’s going to happen. When he gets them, they’re usually big situations or very large home runs. Today was both.”

Thome crushed a 3-2 slider from Royals starter Felipe Paulino about halfway up in the second deck. It was the 596th home run of Thome’s career putting him just four shy of becoming the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600 or more career homers.

The lefty slugger hit it while still recovering from a sprained left big toe, and at age 40, health issues are the only thing keeping Thome from hitting mammoth home runs on a daily basis.

“I’m not going to win any races,” Thome joked about the status of his toe. “I never did anyway. It’s coming along good.”

Joe Nathan came on in the ninth for his second straight save in the series, the first time since Oct. 2-3, 2009, that Nathan recorded saves in consecutive games.

Nathan has made nine consecutive scoreless appearances, allowing just three hits with seven strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings of work. He sits three saves shy of tying Rick Aguilera on the Twins’ all-time list.

Thome’s blast gave the Twins just enough offense to support Duensing, who picked up his seventh win of the season. The left-hander went 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.

Duensing settled in nicely after opening with three long innings, retiring 10 straight Royals hitters from the third to the second out in the sixth.

“We just said, ‘Let’s keep going at ’em,'” Duensing said. “I was a little shaky early, and I think part of that was the All-Star break. I threw bullpens when I got back, but being off the mound in a game situation that long … it took me a little while to get it going.”

After Thome handed Duensing a 4-1 lead, he surrendered a two-run blast to Jeff Francoeur in the seventh. Francoeur’s home run was his 13th of the season, a 418-foot blast to left. Duensing was taken out after facing one more batter, and the Twins’ bullpen retired the Royals in order over the final 2 2/3 innings.

Both teams scored in the first inning in similar fashion before going scoreless until the sixth. Melky Cabrera and Alexi Casilla each doubled with one out, and Alex Gordon and Joe Mauer each drove them in with singles.

With their second straight win and the fourth in five games, the Twins moved to within five games of first place in the American League Central for the first time since April 23. The Twins also are five games under .500 for the first time since they were 9-14 on April 28.

As the first-place Indians head into town on Monday for a four-game series, the Twins have a big opportunity to gain even more ground this week.

“Maybe this momentum will carry us over into the next two series,” Thome said. “You don’t win every ballgame, but the thing this time of year is you want to win series. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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

Twins notebook, 7/1

July 1, 2011 Comments off

Thome belts home run No. 594

MINNEAPOLIS — With the two injuries that have forced him to miss nearly 40 games this season, Jim Thome hasn’t even had time to think about reaching 600 home runs.

Even if his focus is just on staying healthy and contributing, the Twins slugger moved one step closer to that milestone on Friday, as Thome hit career homer No. 594, a three-run shot that just got over the fence in left field in a 6-2 win over the Brewers.

After missing so much time, Thome said it felt good to put one in the seats.

“It does, especially being on the DL and being in Florida trying to get back, and still trying to kind of get a feel here and get back going,” Thome said. “Anytime you can do something, especially the way the guys have been playing, and contribute and help out, is good, no doubt.”

Thome hit an 0-1 curveball from Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo, giving the Twins a 3-1 lead. After missing 20 games with a left quad strain, Thome homered in his fifth game back from the disabled list.

Thome last homered on May 23 against the Mariners, when he hit two balls out of the park in his first game back from a DL stint for an oblique strain.

It was Thome’s fifth home run of the season, putting him six away from being the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600. Thome would be the first to reach the mark since the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez last season.

“Everyone gets excited when Jim Thome comes up, and he crushed that ball in the seats and that’s a big huge boost for us after we got down quick in the ballgame,” said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire. “That’s kind of what we are hoping for as we go along here. If we can keep those guys healthy, some of those things can happen.”

 

Young takes batting practice at Target Field

MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time since spraining his right ankle, Twins left fielder Delmon Young took batting practice on Friday at Target Field. If everything continues to go well this weekend, Young will begin a Triple-A rehab assignment next week.

Young, who left during the fifth inning at Miller Park last Saturday after being injured, took part in both early BP and the Twins’ regular pregame batting practice session, and he also ran the bases.

“He’s feeling great,” Twins head trainer Rick McWane said. “He’s going to do the same thing tomorrow, and the plan is for him to travel to Rochester on Sunday and start a rehab assignment with Rochester next week.”

McWane also gave updates on right-hander Kevin Slowey, currently on the disabled list with an abdominal injury. The 27-year-old threw 3 1/3 innings on Thursday night for the Fort Myers Miracle.

Slowey also will travel to Rochester on Sunday. He is scheduled to start Tuesday for the Red Wings, McWane said.

Twins center fielder Denard Span also continues to make progress in his recovery from a concussion sustained on June 3 in Kansas City.

“Denard came out early, did some long toss, did some running [and] had a good workout,” McWane said. “We still hope to get him on the field taking batting practice at some point, although we don’t have a date right now.”

Humphries, Kardashian take in the opener

MINNEAPOLIS — After waiting out a two-hour rain delay, former Minnesota Gophers forward Kris Humphries threw out the first pitch on Friday at Target Field.

Humphries, an all-Big Ten honoree and 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was named Minnesota Mr. Basketball as a senior at Hopkins High School in 2003. He spent the last two seasons with the New Jersey Nets, and previously played for the Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz.

Joining Humphries to watch the Twins take on the Brewers was his fiance, reality TV personality Kim Kardashian. The two were visited in their suite during the rain delay by a pair of Twins, closer Matt Capps and catcher Drew Butera.

Before the game, Kardashian tweeted: “Hi Minnesoooota! Heading to the twins game tonight! This should be fun!”

Dodgers notebook, 6/27

June 27, 2011 Comments off

Broxton takes step back, Furcal progressing

MINNEAPOLIS — Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton underwent an MRI exam on Monday after feeling pain in his elbow while playing catch Sunday at Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

Broxton, who was previously on schedule to return this weekend, also was set to see Dr. Neal ElAttrache after having the MRI.

“It definitely wasn’t a good thing,” said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. “The fact that he took a lot of time off, slowly came back, [pitched] two outings, and then have maybe a day and a half, two days later he’s having elbow [issues] and it’s doing the same thing. …

“That’s not a good thing and it kind of shifts the rehab to a point where we’ve got to find out what’s going on again.”

Mattingly also gave a quick update on shortstop Rafael Furcal, who also is on a rehab stint with Class A Rancho Cucamonga.

Furcal (strained left oblique) went 2-for-3 on Sunday with three runs scored in the Quakes’ 13-1 victory over the Lancaster JetHawks.

“[He] was good,” Mattingly said. “He DH’d yesterday, he’s going to play short today. No real reports on his swing or anything like that, just the fact that we know he did well.”

Guerrier makes first return trip to Twins country

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Twins right-hander Matt Guerrier made his return to Target Field on Monday for the first time since signing a three-year, $12 million deal with the Dodgers in the offseason.

Guerrier, who posted a combined 3.38 ERA in seven seasons with the Twins and led the American League in appearances in 2008-09, was happy to return to Minnesota, saying there were no hard feelings about leaving.

“It’s good to be back,” Guerrier told reporters. “It’s exciting to see everybody and to come back and see a couple of the changes that’s been done here. It’s different, but exciting.”

Guerrier, who has a 4.50 ERA in 38 innings this year, talked to several of his former teammates during early batting practice, including right-hander Joe Nathan. Nathan said he’s scheduled to meet up with Guerrier after the game, and had nothing but positives to say about his former bullpen mate.

“We miss him on both ends,” Nathan said. “He’s obviously a great guy in the clubhouse and kept guys loose by smiling. Obviously, there’s what he does on the field. He was leading the league in appearances and all that, so guys like that are very hard to replace.”

Mattingly, Kershaw address bankruptcy filing

MINNEAPOLIS — Prior to Monday’s game at Target Field, manager Don Mattingly answered questions about the Dodgers filing for bankruptcy for five minutes before getting to any queries related to their play on the field.

The Dodgers filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court earlier Monday — which sets in motion the beginning of legal proceedings that will decide the future of Frank McCourt’s ownership — was the main topic of discussion in the visitors’ dugout.

But even as the club’s off-the-field issues have overshadowed what the Dodgers have done on the field, Mattingly insists it’s still business as usual at the ballpark, and the team’s struggles through 79 games are not related to the ownership situation.

“I honestly believe that,” Mattingly said. “I know there’s a lot going on and a lot of talk about it. And again, I think it’s an area that, to really say that that’s not getting a hit with runners in scoring position or making a pitch with a guy in scoring position or any of that … I think it’s just not true.”

The Dodgers entered their Interleague series against the Twins with a 35-44 record, sitting 9 1/2 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants.

Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, like his manager, sees no correlation between the off-field issues and the on-field play.

“I really don’t think so,” Kershaw said. “You see the guys in this room, you see guys like Matt [Kemp] and Andre [Ethier] and James [Loney] is hitting really well right now … we’ve got all the pieces. And that’s almost the frustrating part is that we’re not just stringing the wins together like we should.

“But I definitely don’t think what’s going on out there is resulting in a poor team on the field. I think we’ve got good players. We should be playing better than we are, and the good news is we’re not quite halfway there yet, so we’ve still got a shot.”

Mattingly and Kershaw both noted that an e-mail from Peter Wilhelm, the Dodgers’ chief financial officer, was forwarded to everyone on the team, letting them know the club would continue to operate as usual within the organization.

Kershaw said that as a team, they “definitely like to focus on baseball,” and that he hopes the whole situation will be figured out soon.

“I think that’s what everybody wants, whether it’s Mr. McCourt or baseball or us. Everybody wants it just to be settled,” Kershaw said. “That’s kind of what everybody’s going for, it’s just everybody has differences of opinion on how to get there.”

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

Twins buried by early struggles against Rangers

June 10, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — In the clubhouse, Brian Duensing sat facing his locker with his head down. After yet another tough outing and a 9-3 loss to the Rangers on Friday night, the Twins’ lefty was not in a hurry to talk about it.

When he did, Duensing was asked if it was the most frustrated he had been after a start this season.

“I’ve had so many,” Duensing said. “Yeah. This is real frustrating. The baseball team, we’re playing well now. To go out and basically not give us a chance right away is very frustrating. I don’t know, I’ve got to find a way to get it done. I’m not getting it done right now, and I know that.”

It was a cold, rainy night at Target Field, and sloppy playing conditions were accompanied by a sloppy second inning that was too much for the Twins to overcome. Bad weather is nothing new for Duensing.

After a strong first month of the season, Duensing’s struggles started May 7, when he had his start cut short after two innings due to a rain delay. He gave up just one run on three hits, but took the loss as the Twins were shut out, 4-0.

Three days later, Duensing pitched two innings in relief of Francisco Liriano after a 64-minute hail delay. Duensing allowed two runs on three hits as the Twins lost, 10-2. Things really got bad in his next four starts, though.

Over 20 2/3 innings of work, Duensing allowed 21 runs on 28 hits, going 0-3 with a 9.15 ERA in his last four May starts. He finally appeared to have turned the corner in his last start, tossing eight scoreless innings against the Royals.

“Last outing was good, I felt confident, threw everything for a strike, every pitch was sharp,” Duensing said. “Then I came out today and didn’t have it at all, it was the complete opposite. It’s frustrating.”

As the rain started to come down in the top of the second, the Rangers started to pile up runs. Duensing surrendered six hits in the inning, which led to seven runs, three of which were earned.

After opening the inning with a walk and a strikeout, Duensing gave up a single to Mike Napoli that was followed by a Jason Repko error in center field that plated the first run of the game. Another single scored the second run before an Alexi Casilla error allowed another runner to reach base.

“Tonight it was just, here he is out there in another mess, trying to pitch through it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I don’t want to make excuses for him, [but] the mound was terrible, the ball was up. Their guy was going through the same thing, we just couldn’t put any hits together on him.”

Duensing then surrendered another pair of singles, struck out Josh Hamilton and gave up a single and double before getting out of the inning with a flyout. Over his last six starts, even including the brilliant outing in Kansas City, Duensing has gone 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA.

Gardenhire replaced Duensing after two innings, bringing in right-hander Anthony Swarzak. In six innings of relief, Swarzak gave up two runs on six hits.

Swarzak tossed 101 pitches, providing a bright spot for the Twins on the night as he saved Gardenhire from having to use up the bullpen.

“That’s a phenomenal lineup over there,” Swarzak said. “You have Hamilton, Cruz, you can go top to bottom with that lineup. They can get to about anything near the plate. So you just try to go in effectively and pitch out when you need to and throw some offspeed out there and hope for the best.”

Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson was effective against the Twins, allowing just three runs on eight hits over seven innings.

After battling through the same tough conditions, Wilson sympathized with Duensing’s tough night.

“That was rough,” Wilson said. “I’m sure he’s a good dude. I hope he has some good karma against the rest of the AL West. It was like the Twilight Zone. Guys were falling over trying to catch the ball. It was like the Bad News Bears on both sides.”

Michael Cuddyer swung the bat well, driving in Drew Butera with a single in the fifth, while also collecting a double and a pair of walks.

But it was the bottom of the order did most of the damage for Minnesota, as Repko doubled and scored in the second on a Matt Tolbert single, and Butera went 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run scored. Three hits marked a career high for Butera.

“It was nice,” Butera said. “I wish we could’ve won. It’s never fun to lose. It’s nice to get the hits but it’s better to go 0-for and get the 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.

Twins plant spruce tree in honor of fallen fan

May 31, 2011 Comments off

 

ZUMBROTA, Minn. — Those who knew Patrick Gadient would tell you he did not like to be the center of attention. Imagine what he would have thought of the Twins holding a ceremony Tuesday morning in his honor.

One of the 14 black spruce trees from Target Field was planted just beyond the center field fence at Zumbrota Mazeppa High School, creating a memorial to Gadient, a Class of 2006 graduate who was killed in a car accident on Feb. 3, 2011.

The tree was awarded to Twins season-ticket holder Dan Flaaen through the club’s “Sweet Spot” program. When the Twins decided to remove the trees from beyond the center-field fence at Target Field, season-ticket holders had the opportunity to submit a video on why they deserved to have a black spruce tree from the inaugural season at Target Field.

Flaeen, a friend and classmate of Gadient, teamed with another classmate, Bobbie Ersland, to submit a video in their friend’s honor.

“We got the email, I think they sent it out in about January, and I didn’t even think about it,” Flaaen said. “But then after the funeral, I was walking back from class, I called Bobbie, and I said, ‘You know, I think we should do it.’ … It felt right. He loved the Twins, he loved baseball, and so I thought it fit perfectly.”

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Flaeen and Ersland spoke along with Gadient’s sister, Karen Lang, and Zumbrota Mazeppa High School Principal Erik Enger. They spoke of Gadient’s personality and his love not only for baseball but life in general.

Enger commended Flaaen and Ersland for seeing the opportunity and taking advantage of it to honor their friend.

“None of us controls our fate, that is given to an ultimate higher power,” Enger said. “What we can control is how we respond to when things happen. And thanks to the response of Bob and Dan getting things started with the tree, and then the response from the community … that makes me feel very proud.”

The video, titled “Spruce for Pat,” was filmed at Zumbrota Mazeppa, using video equipment from the high school, along with photos of Gadient from his Facebook page.

It details Gadient’s popularity among his friends, his love for outdoor activities and his connection to the Twins as a baseball player. Twice during his career, Gadient had the opportunity to play at the Metrodome on the same field as his heroes.

“He was just ecstatic,” Ersland said of Gadient playing at the Metrodome. “He knew he’d be pitching off the mound and all the greats that pitched from ’82 to ’04 and ’06, when we went and played there, he was toeing the same rubber as those guys that toed the rubber.”

After placing among the five finalists, Flaaen and Ersland spread the word to friends and family to vote for the video. The response snowballed as the people they contacted sent it to other people they knew, then so on.

The video received 69 percent of the vote, winning easily as no other video got more than 26 percent.

“They did a phenomenal job of showing what a great person he was and how much he really loved the Twins,” Lang said. “So, here’s to Dan and Bobbie.”

Gadient was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart, Briana Darcy of Mazeppa, in July. But as he drove home from work on that February night, his car hit a patch of ice and slid into oncoming traffic.

He may never get to play baseball again or go to another Twins game, but as the Target Field black spruce grows beyond left-center field at the Zumbrota Mazeppa baseball field, it will serve as a reminder of Gadient.

As his friends and family see it, Gadient will get to watch his younger brother, Kurt, play on the field. Even after his brother has graduated, they believe Gadient will be watching over the field and the school.

“Just like when we were in class and he’d be joking around and everyone would draw the attention to him, we knew that happen with this tree, too,” Ersland said. “Let’s make this about him, and the attention was drawn towards, ‘Everyone vote for this tree so we can plant it for Pat, so that he can be remembered all the time.

“Any time they play a ball game here, this tree’s going to be in center field, and it’s only going to grow bigger.”

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

Players became fans when it came to Killebrew

May 26, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — For all the home runs he hit in his career, and the impressive distances they traveled, it was Harmon Killebrew’s personality that left a lasting impact on his friends, family, former teammates and the Twins organization.

They made that clear Thursday night at Target Field, when several current and former Twins shared their memories of the Hall of Fame slugger.

“He was more than a great baseball player,” said Hall of Famer Rod Carew in one of the more touching speeches of the night. “He loved people. And he loved treating them the right way — and respected everyone.”

Carew shared a story, about the nicknames he and Killebrew had for each other.

During his second season with the Twins, Carew was talking one day in the dugout with Killebrew, who told him that he couldn’t call him “Rookie” anymore, so he was going to call him “Junior.” From that day forward, they addressed each other as “Junior” and “Charlie.”

Carew never explained why he called Killebrew by the name “Charlie,” but it gave everyone in attendance a look into their close relationship just the same.

“I tried to model myself after Harmon Killebrew, that’s how much he meant to me,” Carew said. “There will only be one face of this organization, and that’s Harmon Killebrew.”

Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau shared their thoughts, and a video from former Twins Gold Glover Torii Hunter was shown on the video board as well. Each described the way Killebrew helped them change their signatures to make them more legible for fans.

Killebrew’s autograph — which was added to the wall in right at Target Field — was among the best in baseball, and he made it a point to ensure that fans could tell it was his. It was one of many examples of the concern Killebrew had for others, no matter their status in life.

When he reached the podium, Paul Molitor shared a note about his signature as well, in one of the more lighthearted moments of the night.

“Harmon actually liked my autograph,” Molitor said. “Just to get that out of the way.”

Molitor talked about another common topic regarding Killebrew, his nickname.

“Much has been made of the irony of his nickname, Killer, given his tranquil personality,” Molitor said. “But there’s irony in his first name, too, Harmon, or Harm. Because he never did any harm to anyone — except for opposing pitchers.”

Like many Twins fans, Molitor grew up idolizing Killebrew as a child. He recalled the way players would always fight over the No. 3 jersey when he played Little League.

Now a Hall of Famer himself, Molitor eventually became close friends with his idol.

As much as they remembered him for his kindhearted nature, Killebrew’s friends and former teammates were among his biggest fans, too.

And just like any other Twins fan, they loved to see him hit the ball out of the park.

“The thing that set Harmon apart from other home run hitters was the trajectory he hit in his home runs,” said former Twins All-Star pitcher Jim Kaat, who was also a teammate of Killebrew’s. “There were two players in the American League who made you say, ‘Wow’. And that was Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew.”

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

Killebrew fondly remembered by fans at service

May 26, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — He was a fan favorite in Minnesota during his playing days, and several thousand fans turned out Thursday night for Harmon Killebrew’s memorial service at Target Field.

Killebrew was a legendary figure among Twins fans for the way he hit towering home runs at Metropolitan Stadium, and a hero for the way he exuded class off the field. After he left a lasting mark on their lives, Twins fans made the trip to the ballpark Thursday to pay one last tribute to Killebrew.

“I was 9 years old when the Twins came to Minnesota, and he was the star,” said John Korman of Mendota Heights, Minn. “That’s all you could think about is wanting to go down to the old Met and watch Harmon Killebrew.”

When Twins fans came to the ballpark in the 1960s, they wanted to see Killebrew hit one of his classic, long home runs to left field. Having hit 573 during his career, Killebrew often granted their wish.

Some were not so lucky.

“I’ll never forget the first time I came to Met Stadium down in Bloomington and seeing it for the first time,” said Scott Karich of New Brighton, Minn. “Harmon being my favorite player, we were there to see him hit a home run. We wanted to see him hit a home run, and everybody there wanted to see him hit a home run, and that’s kind of my memory, that I didn’t get to see him hit a home run.”

Whether they got to see them in person or not, the one thing fans most closely associated with Killebrew — besides his genuine personality — were his home runs.

“I just always remember the crack of the bat over the radio as a South Dakota farm boy,” said Mike Reyelts, who now lives in Eagan, Minn. “You could tell Harmon hit the ball out before Herb Carneal even announced it.”

The ceremony, which featured speeches from several former players, Commissioner Bud Selig and Killebrew’s wife, Nita, received excellent reviews from the fans in attendance.

Among the things that stood out as the more memorable or touching moments to the fans were the heartfelt speeches from former Twins players and from Nita. The musical selections throughout the ceremony also were a highlight, and they included Mudcat Grant, a former teammate of Killebrew, singing “What A Wonderful World.”

“Rod Carew’s speech,” Korman said. “That made me cry.”