Published November 20, 2014
There's a reason why Jim Thome is on the brink of joining the 600-home run club.
The 40-year-old has worked hard at his craft since breaking into the big leagues 20 years ago, and nothing has changed in his second season with the Minnesota Twins.
Thome hit his 591st career home run and had two RBIs to back a dominating pitching performance by Scott Baker, and the Twins beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 Thursday night to salvage a split of the four-game series.
Thome hit a solo home run in the second inning and added an RBI single in the sixth. He began the night with a .163 batting average and five RBIs, which only served to increase his determination to be a factor for the low-scoring Twins.
"I haven't been swinging the bat all that great. I've been working hard to make some adjustments," Thome said. "I saw some things on video that I needed to correct, and I've worked on those things in the (batting) cage.
"I just have to continue to come early and work hard. I'm a firm believer that if you work on something consistently and diligently, you might not see dividends the first or second or third day, but eventually you will see some positive results."
And now Thome stands only nine home runs away from becoming the seventh player in major league history to hit 600.
"As a fan of the game, as a fan of history, it is exciting," he said. "As you get closer, you get asked about it more because it is a historical thing. You just try not to think about it too much. It's important to stay with your approach."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire had no doubt that Thome would eventually return to form.
"He's never that far off. That's why he has almost 600 home runs," Gardenhire said. "Thome can swing. That's one thing he can do is swing the bat."
Michael Cuddyer also connected for the last-place Twins, who came in with a major league-low six home runs in 18 games.
Baker (1-2) allowed four hits over seven scoreless innings, striking out nine and walking one. He is 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA in eight career starts against Baltimore.
"It seems like we can't beat the guy," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "He's a good pitcher, so you tip your hat and unfortunately you move on."
Baker allowed four runs in each of his first starts. Then, after limiting Tampa Bay to one run over seven innings on Saturday, he tossed a gem against Baltimore.
"I felt the same," he said. "I'm feeling better with my mechanics. It was just a matter of changing speeds and keeping these guys off-balance."
Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie (1-3) gave up two runs and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out four, walked none and lowered his ERA to 3.12.
Unfortunately for Guthrie, Baker was even better. Baltimore got only three runners to second base against the right-hander and none of them made it to third.
"I was outpitched tonight," Guthrie said. "I didn't make the big pitches when I needed to."
After the Orioles scored a run against the Twins bullpen in the eighth, Matt Capps, the fourth Minnesota reliever, got three outs for his third save.
Baltimore put a runner at second base in three of the first five innings, but couldn't capitalize. Nick Markakis twice made the final out with runners at first and second.
Minnesota went up 2-0 in the sixth. Alexi Casilla hit a leadoff single, advanced when Cuddyer was hit by a pitch and scored on Thome's single to center.
Cuddyer homered in the eighth off Mike Gonzalez. It was his second in two nights and upped his RBI total for the season to two.
In the bottom half, Vladimir Guerrero singled in a run with two outs before Glen Perkins retired Luke Scott with runners at the corners.
NOTES: The Twins played a fifth straight game without first baseman Justin Morneau (flu) and were also without infielder Delmon Young, who has been out since Monday with the flu and a sore rib. Young intends to get an MRI on Friday to determine the extent of his rib injury. ... Baltimore's Derrek Lee needed an eighth-inning double to lift his batting average over .200. He has one homer and two RBIs. ... The Twins has scored only one first-inning run this season. ... Thome has four career homers against Guthrie. He has 1,631 career RBIs, five fewer than Ernie Banks, who ranks 28th.