MINNEAPOLIS — Jim Thome spent less than two seasons in Minnesota, hitting 37 home runs, including historic No. 600.
He returned to Target Field as a visitor for the first time on Friday night, and Twins’ fans had a chance to show how much they appreciated his short tenure in a Minnesota uniform.
Thome was given a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat, and was applauded again even after hitting home run No. 603. The drive helped the Cleveland Indians beat the Twins 7-6 Friday night to keep the Detroit Tigers, at least for a few hours, from clinching the AL Central title.
"Getting a chance to come here and play here for the two years I did was very special," Thome said. "The crowd has always been great here. They really have. It’s been a joy. A little different competing against them, but that’s part of the game too."
Thome homered in the ninth inning against Joe Nathan for a 7-4 lead, just Thome’s second home run since Cleveland reacquired him on Aug. 25. The 41-year-old spent his first 12 seasons with the Indians.
"That would only happen to a guy like him," Indians manager Manny Acta said of the cheers. "To be doing what they were doing today, even in the first at-bat it seemed like they were pulling for him to hit a ball out when he first hit that fly ball to left field. He gets what he deserves. He’s such a great guy, and the fans here appreciate his time here."
Thome’s 22 home runs are the most at Target Field, now in its second season, and he has six of the eight-longest homers in the ballpark’s history.
The Twins showed a video tribute of Thome before his first at-bat, and he was greeted with a standing ovation before flying out to the left-field warning track. Thome went 2 for 4 with a walk and two runs.
"No matter what team you’re on, he walks up to the plate and you’re always interested in watching him," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He got us tonight, but we’ve seen him get lots of people, and he’s gotten us before. It’s nice to see him back in town, but I’d still like to end up with a win and shake hands."
Detroit, which played at Oakland, would have clinched the division title with an Indians’ defeat. Minnesota, which has dropped into last place, has lost six straight and 11 of 12. The Twins have scored just 21 runs in their last 11 games.
Backed by a 5-0 lead, Ubaldo Jimenez (4-2) allowed three runs — none earned — and five hits in 6 1-3 innings. Obtained from Colorado at the trade deadline on July 31, he improved to 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in his last five starts after going 1-1 with a 7.29 ERA in his first four outings for the Indians.
"It means a lot for me, especially the way I started the season," Jimenez said. "The first two, three months of the season wasn’t easy for me. Being able to finish strong means a lot."
Minnesota had runners reach in each of the first five innings but couldn’t score until center fielder Grady Sizemore allowed Rene Tosoni’s well-hit fly ball to glance off his glove for a two-run error in the fifth.
Despite allowing a pair of runs in the ninth, Chris Perez got three outs in his 33rd save in 37 chances.
Carlos Santana hit his 24th homer, a solo drive in the second against Kevin Slowey, and Lonnie Chisenhall and Lou Marson each had two hits and pair of RBIs as Cleveland ended a three-game losing streak.
Slowey (0-6), winless since last Sept. 18, gave up five runs and seven hits in four innings.
NOTES: Minnesota DH Jason Kubel left with left foot pain after going 0 for 2. ... Gardenhire announced after the game that SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka would miss the rest of the season because of his right oblique strain. Nishioka last played on Sept. 9. ... Santana’s home run gave him 30 extra-base hits since the All-Star break, seventh most in the AL during since the break, and 43 of his last 78 hits have been for extra bases. ... The Twins activated LHP Francisco Liriano (left posterior shoulder strain) from the DL and he was available out of the bullpen. Manager Ron Gardenhire said he’d like to get Liriano an outing or two out of the bullpen and he could start one game of the doubleheader at Cleveland on Sept. 24 with a limited pitch count. ... The Indians will send RHP Jeanmar Gomez (3-2, 3.95) to the mound Saturday. Gomez is 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA in his last three starts. ... Minnesota counters with RHP Anthony Swarzak (3-6, 3.89). Swarzak has lost his last three decisions but has allowed just four earned runs over 14 innings in two September starts.