Mauer's power finally surfaces at Target Field; Twins beat White Sox 7-6 to take 5-game lead

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Joe Mauer had four hits, two RBIs and his first regular season home run at Target Field, leading the Minnesota Twins past the Chicago White Sox 7-6 on Wednesday night to increase their season-high lead in the AL Central to five games.

The Twins trailed 5-3 entering the bottom of the fifth inning against Gavin Floyd (8-10). Mauer's opposite-field solo shot cut into the lead before a three-run sixth sealed it.

Matt Capps gave up a run the ninth one night after blowing his second save since coming to the Twins in a trade last month. Jeff Manship and Jesse Crain relieved a struggling Francisco Liriano.

The Twins have won nine straight at home and 24 of their last 31 overall. Mauer, the reigning AL MVP, has been a huge part of that, raising his batting average more than 30 points during his midsummer surge. This was his eighth homer of the season.

Andruw Jones hit a three-run homer for the White Sox, but they fell to 15-17 since their 26-5 run that stretched one game past the All-Star break. They are 4-10 this season against the Twins, who improved to 33-17 against the division and reached 20 games above .500 for the first time in nearly two years.

Liriano walked four and needed 106 pitches to get through five innings, slamming his glove and cap down in disgust when he reached the dugout at the end of his last inning. The Sox got their fifth run when he fielded Carlos Quentin's comebacker and threw to second for a force, allowing Alex Rios to race home and score when the relay to first was a bit late to get the double play.

But Liriano was all over the place, giving up consecutive walks to start the second before Jones smashed his 17th homer into the bullpen for a 3-2 lead right after pitching coach Rick Anderson came out for a visit.

That ended a streak of 96 1-3 innings by Liriano without giving up a long ball, the second-most in Twins history. Bert Blyleven went 99 innings in 1974-75. Liriano has allowed only three homers this season.

After watching former teammate Jim Thome tear into a fastball from stalwart lefty Matt Thornton and end Tuesday's 10-inning game with a two-run homer, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen animatedly defended before the game the decision to not bring the 39-year-old slugger back this season.

Fans and analysts in Chicago have been been bemoaning the lack of left-handed power, but Guillen wants the flexibility with his designated hitter spot and insisted he'd take the blame for any criticism of the move.

Guillen, as only he can do, downplayed Thome's value during a rant to reporters in the dugout yet managed to offer his respect at the same time.

"I wish I hated that guy. I love that man, and he knows it," Guillen said.

Thome struck out three times, but he walked after Michael Cuddyer's chalk-dust double down the third-base line to start the sixth and was right in the middle of the go-ahead rally. Delmon Young doubled in Cuddyer to tie the game at 5, and Danny Valencia hit a grounder that shortstop Alexei Ramirez grabbed with an off-balance scoop.

Ramirez fired across his body to try to get the not-so-sleek Thome, who was thrown out at the plate on Tuesday, but the ball arrived home late and off target while a sure out at first base was wasted. J.J. Hardy's sacrifice fly, caught by Juan Pierre as he banged into the left-field wall, then drove in Young for a two-run lead.

NOTES: Mauer's double was his 39th, tied for most in the league and already a career high. ... Pierre stole two more bases to give him 47 this season, most in the majors. The last time a White Sox player led the league in that category was Luis Aparicio in 1962.