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AL Central: Time running out on Twins

With one swing of the bat in the eighth inning against Boston Wednesday night, Jim Thome put an end to the Minnesota Twins' misery.

For now.

Thome's RBI double against Jon Lester gave the Twins the lead and sent them on their way to a 5-2 victory, snapping the team's six-game losing streak. The veteran slugger also drove in the first run of the game back in the first inning. And if the Twins (52-65) hope to close the 10-game gap to AL Central- leading Detroit before the end of the season, they're going to need some more big swings by Thome and the rest of the lineup.

Four times this season the Twins have lost at least six games in a row. Wednesday's triumph was the only win for Minnesota during its six-game homestand. Overall, the club has dropped nine of its last 11 outings while seemingly finding new ways to lose each day.

In the seventh inning against Boston Tuesday night, reliever Phil Dumatrait tripped while trying to field a soft ground ball, allowing the deciding run to score. Instead of clawing back into the AL Central race, that loss dropped the Twins to 14 games below .500 for the first time since June. Francisco Liriano started Tuesday's game and issued a career-high seven walks, as the pitching staff has posted a 5.31 ERA during this 11-game stretch.

Keep in mind, the front office committed a franchise-record $115 million on payroll in this, the team's second season playing in the newly-constructed Target Field. Certainly, injuries have affected several players throughout the season, while others have simply underperformed.

"As we left spring training, I wrote down a lineup and I thought it was pretty fun to write down all those names," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Star Tribune. "So to see us sitting at 13 games under .500 now, yeah, that's not what I expected, let's put it that way.

"I thought we were going to have a pretty good year. Not saying we can't go on a run here, but I didn't expect to be where we're at. But I didn't expect the injuries, either. Those go hand in hand."

That said, things aren't all doom and gloom for the Twins on the horizon. Second baseman Alexi Casilla has made a speedy recovery from his strained right hamstring and will be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday, the first day he's eligible to come off. Also on Friday, first baseman Justin Morneau will be activated from the DL in a bit of a surprise move. Morneau, who underwent surgery to remove a herniated disk fragment in his neck on June 29, wasn't expected to rejoin the team until Monday at the earliest. A .423 average and eight RBI in six rehab games with Triple-A Rochester apparently convinced the Twins he was ready. That, and a text message Wednesday morning to general manager Bill Smith that read, "Get me out of here," according to the Star Tribune.

Meanwhile, a couple of milestone chases have taken front and center. Closer Joe Nathan has come full circle since missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery. On Wednesday, he posted his 255th save to become the club's all- time leader, passing Rick Aguilera, who the set the previous record with 254 saves from 1989-98.

Wednesday's other hero, Thome, is two home runs shy of becoming the eighth member of the 600 home run club. On Friday, the team begins a three-game series in Cleveland, where Thome spent 12 of his big-league seasons. While he conceded reaching the milestone in Cleveland would be "very, very cool," his primary concern is winning ballgames.

"We have a big road trip here," Thome said. "We've got Cleveland and Detroit, who are the top of the division. So we'll just play the game, and won't think ahead or look ahead. So we'll see what happens and roll the dice and keep battling."

JIMENEZ LIVES UP TO BILLING IN HOME DEBUT

Ubaldo Jimenez made his home debut for the Cleveland Indians Wednesday night, and the results were significantly better than his initial outing with his new club. Jimenez, acquired from Colorado in a five-player deal at the July 31 trade deadline, took the loss Aug. 5 in his Indians debut at Texas after allowing five runs in five innings.

On Wednesday, taking the mound in a charged up atmosphere at Progressive Field, Jimenez treated Indians fans to a much better performance. The right- hander scattered six hits and three runs over eight solid innings, striking out six along the way.

Manager Manny Acta spoke of the impact a pitcher of Jimenez's caliber brings each time he takes the mound.

"When you have a guy like that, before the game starts, you feel like you have a chance to win the ballgame," Acta said. "You have a guy that can dominate any type of lineup."

Just as importantly, Wednesday's victory pulled Cleveland within two games of the first-place Detroit Tigers. With less than two months remaining in the regular season, Jimenez figures to have a few more pressure-packed outings in the thick of a playoff race. Cleveland's newest starter said he is very much up to the challenge.

"I've been there before, especially in the playoffs," Jimenez said. "So I know how it's just an unbelievable experience. You come to the stadium every day expecting to win. Everything counts. Every pitch. Every out. Every inning. It's really fun."

TIGERS FIGHTING TO HOLD OFF TRIBE

The American League Central race is starting to really heat up, and the Detroit Tigers (62-55) are in the spot to be with a three-game lead entering Friday. That lead was four games before this week's series against the second- place Cleveland Indians (58-57), who took two of three to narrow the deficit.

The Chicago White Sox (58-59) are also in the mix, four games back of Detroit. But for now, the Tigers' biggest threat is Cleveland. On Thursday, the Tigers avoided a sweep with a 4-3 victory, their first win in Cleveland in the last 14 tries and a span of 15 months.

The ninth inning of Thursday's game presented an atmosphere normally reserved for October. With a one-run cushion, Tigers starter Justin Verlander was in line for career win No. 100 after pitching seven solid innings. Closer Jose Valverde was on the mound trying to record his 33rd save in as many tries this season and break Willie Hernandez's 1984 club record for consecutive saves in a season. All the while, the 30,000-plus fans at Progressive Field were on their feet waving white T-shirts. Earlier in the game, Indians teammates Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana got caught up in a dugout skirmish stemming from a costly error by Santana that led to a Tigers run.

Indeed, the urgency had been raised to its highest level for a game played in August. The Indians knew they had to take the series in their own park to keep pace in the division, while the Tigers were intent on padding their lead at all costs. These two teams will face each other nine more times, including the season-ending series Sept. 26-28 in Detroit.

"There's no question, I don't think anybody's going away," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

GUILLEN STICKING WITH DUNN

Despite Adam Dunn's season-long struggles, particularly against left-handers, Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is sticking with the veteran slugger.

Dunn is hitting a paltry 3-for-79 (.038) against lefties this season. His 146 strikeouts are more than any other player in the American League, and he is on pace for more than 200 this season. On Wednesday night, Dunn stranded five baserunners in going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, dropping his batting average to .161. His average with runners in scoring position is now .141 with 43 strikeouts.

Even with those jarring numbers, Guillen said he has no plans to remove Dunn for a pinch-hitter against left-handers late in games. And lately, Dunn has been playing first base while Paul Konerko battles a sore left calf.

"I would rather put him on the bench against lefties and give him some time then pinch-hit for him," Guillen said. "I don't know how the team will react. I don't know how Dunn will react. In the meanwhile, I think about it a few times. But every time he's at the plate, I think he has a chance. I have confidence and think he's going to do it."

END OF THE ROAD FOR DAVIES IN KC

It hasn't been a banner week for former Royals starter Kyle Davies, who was given his unconditional release on Wednesday after spending the last four-plus years in Kansas City's rotation. A day earlier, he was arrested for disorderly intoxication in Tampa, Florida, according to the Kansas City Star.

According to the report, the 27-year-old was arrested at 3:47 a.m. Tuesday morning while the team was in town to play the Tampa Bay Rays in nearby St. Petersburg. He was charged with a misdemeanor and released a few hours later on cash bond. While Davies has since expressed regret and embarrassment for the incident, general manager Dayton Moore said the decision to release Davies was in no way related to Tuesday's arrest.

"We knew nothing about the arrest," Moore told the Kansas City Star. "I only learned about it (Thursday) afternoon."

In 13 starts this season, Davies was 1-9 with a 6.75 ERA, while opponents were hitting .332 against him. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Aug. 1 with a right shoulder impingement. It was his second trip to the DL this season, having missed 6 1/2 weeks earlier this year with shoulder inflammation.

Acquired from Atlanta at the 2007 trade deadline for right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel, Davies posted a 5.34 ERA in 99 games as a starter for the Royals.