Jim Thome has always had a knack for hitting home runs in Minnesota. As an opponent at the Metrodome he was known to clear the fence with frustrating regularity. As a Twin for nearly two full seasons, he recorded the three longest homers in Target Field history.
On Thursday, Thome's second Target Field homer as an opponent was the difference as the Philadelphia Phillies took the rubber game of their series with the Minnesota Twins, winning 6-1.
Joe Blanton (6-6) gave up a second-inning home run, but allowed just seven hits in a complete game for the Phillies, who travel to Toronto for a three-game series this weekend. Blanton struck out Minnesota slugger Josh Willingham three times, as Willingham's 15-game hitting streak ended. It was the second complete game for Blanton this season, after he went the distance at Atlanta on May 3.
Since Roy Halladay suffered a shoulder injury in St. Louis on May 27, Phillies starting pitchers have been in a collective slump. Entering play Thursday, Philadelphia's All-Star laden rotation had a 5.97 ERA in 15 games with Blanton being a big part of that downward turn. In each of his past five starts entering Thursday, Blanton had allowed at least five runs; he had a 9.91 ERA over that stretch.
"Tonight's game should be a really big confidence booster for Joe," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He didn't run into that inning where he threw a whole lot of pitches and he had to pitch out of jams where they had somebody on base. They got some guys on, but he was never was in the big trouble."
For Minnesota, rookie Scott Diamond (5-2) settled down and was solid after surrendering homers to Ty Wigginton and Thome, but took the loss for the Twins, who next host Milwaukee in a three-game weekend series.
"I challenged a lot of guys and was able to mix it up a little bit," Diamond said. "If I was able to take those two pitches back, that would be a whole different ballgame. I just tried to work down and challenge hitters as much as I could."
Leading 4-1, the Phillies added two-out insurance runs in the eighth and ninth off of Twins relievers Lester Oliveros and Jeff Gray.
For Thome, 41, the biggest thing is answering critics who doubt his abilities as he reaches senior citizen status among active sluggers.
"There's always going to be people that doubt the age. That's part of it," he said. "To know you can work hard and have some success does mean a lot. Baseball's a weird game and you're going to go through some bad times. The bottom line is to get at-bats like this."
Wigginton started the scoring in the second inning, lifting an 0-1 pitch into the left-field bleachers to give the Phillies an early 1-0 lead. It was Wigginton's first hit versus the Twins in the series, after going 0-for-5 in his previous trips to the plate.
Trevor Plouffe tied things at 1-1 in the bottom of the second, hitting his third homer in as many games, and 12th of the season, to left.
But Diamond hit a snag in the third inning. Jimmy Rollins led off with a double, and went to third on Placido Polanco's groundout. After Hunter Pence walked, Thome hit a high arcing ball that landed in the flower bed, just in front of the first row of seats in right-center field. The three-run shot gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead, and gave Thome 24 homers at Target Field -- the most of any major-leaguer.
"Nothing he does surprises me. He's such an ox," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "I think he's having fun getting a chance to hit every day over here in the American League."
Notes: After he lasted just four batters on Wednesday and took the 9-8 loss, the Twins placed right-handed starter P.J. Walters on the 15-day disabled list Thursday due to right shoulder inflammation. He will be replaced by Oliveros, who has a 1-1 record with 22 strikeouts and two saves in relief for the Twins Class AAA affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. ... On Wednesday, Thome became the oldest player in Phillies history to record four RBIs in a game. . . .While Philadelphia's offense has been on a tear, opposing batters are swinging well versus the Phillies as well. In the 15 games since Roy Halladay was injured, Phillies starters have posted a 5.97 ERA. ... Joe Mauer's walk in the opening game of the Phillies series was the 500th of