Twins keep rolling, rolling, rolling

CHICAGO — The Minnesota Twins can finish off the White Sox in the AL Central race this week at U.S. Cellular Field, and the clubs went at each other Tuesday with a bevy of clutch hits and big pitches that reflected what was at stake.

Fortunately for the Twins, they made the most of both. They took an early 2-0 lead, gave it up, took a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning and polished it off with a five-run eighth for a 9-3 victory and a seven-game lead in the Central.

When the White Sox got the first two runners on base in the seventh off Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain entered. He shook off a sacrifice bunt by Alexei Ramirez and walked Alex Rios before he struck out Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez to end the threat. Guerrier and Crain have combined for 18 shutout innings against the White Sox this season, but Crain did the heavy lifting Tuesday.

Both starting pitchers, Chicago's John Danks and the Twins' Francisco Liriano, have been known to not be their sharpest early in games. But both had little problem in their first trip through the batting order. The Sox did get two on with two outs in the first, but Liriano blew a 97-miles-per-hour fastball — with movement — past Manny Ramirez to end the inning.

From a stuff standpoint, Liriano was the best he's been all season. The radar gun had Liriano hitting 97 several times with his fastball and even 90 with his slider. It was hard to believe, but's gameday backed up those claims.


That's the stuff of the 2006 Liriano, pre-Tommy John surgery Liriano. And that's not supposed to happen.

Perhaps Liriano was wound up to sock it to the White Sox. Catcher Joe Mauer made numerous trips to the mound to keep the easily excitable Liriano calmed down, to the point where the Chicago crowd began to boo as the visits accumulated.

The Twins broke through in the fifth inning when Delmon Young hit the first pitch from Danks into the left field seats for his 17th homer of the season. A two-out single to center by Denard Span drove in J.J. Hardy to make it 2-0.

Chicago responded like a team fighting for its playoff survival. With two outs, Alexei Ramirez came through with a two-run single to center on a 3-2 fastball to tie the score.

Then Liriano sandwiched a walk between two singles in the sixth and landed in a familiar tight spot — bases loaded, no one out — just like he did in his previous start in Chicago on Aug. 18.

A.J. Pierzynski grounded to second. As a run scored to give Chicago a 3-2 lead, Pierzynski was thrown out at first and Carlos Quentin was caught in a rundown for the second. Omar Vizquel flew out to end what could have been a big inning for the White Sox.

Chicago's last stand is even more critical because it's against their long-time rival, the Twins.

The Twins and Sox have battled for years, trading big blows, provocative quotes and memorable games ever since Ron Gardenhire took over as Twins manager before the 2002 season.


It didn't matter if it was a team led by Jerry Manuel or Ozzie Guillen, Gardenhire has had great relationships with them while the teams have left everything out on the field.

"I think it has grown over the years," Gardenhire said of the rivalry." I think you went from some good head-bashing early and a little angry stuff, but I think it has turned into respect because it seems like our two clubs are banging heads here at the end. There's a lot of respect.

"Don't get me wrong. We want to kill them and they want to kill us."

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