Twins come up Big
Helped out by shoddy play from the White Sox, the Twins completed the sweep of their AL Central rivals.
Big Sweep: The Twins took advantage of awful play by the White Sox to win Wednesday afternoon, 5-4, in 10 innings, and complete a sweep. The Twins depart Chicago with a solid 3½ game lead, with rumors swirling that they are on the verge of trading for Pittsburgh pitcher Kris Benson.
Big Mistakes: The White Sox all but gave away Wednesday's game with defensive and baserunning mistakes. The Twins scored a run in the fourth inning after third baseman Joe Crede misplayed a potential doubleplay ball; Minnesota led 4-3 after six innings. The White Sox had runners at first and second and nobody out in the seventh, and Jose Valentin was thrown out trying to steal third. Valentin had taken a big lead off second and attempted to draw a throw from rifle-armed catcher Henry Blanco, who held the ball and threw to third instead of second; Valentin was tagged out standing up. Then Juan Uribe was thrown out trying to steal second, and instead of putting together a big inning, the White Sox would manage only the tying run. Jacque Jones drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th with an RBI single.
Big Catch: Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan came on to get the last three outs in the bottom of the 10th, and Timo Perez drove a ball into the gap in right-center -- a double, it appeared. But Minnesota center fielder Torii Hunter dove, his body parallel to the ground, and gloved the ball for the first out of the inning. Nathan got the save that, on this day, really belonged to Hunter.
Big Performances: The Twins completely outplayed the White Sox for much of the series, outscoring Chicago 18-9 over the three games. On Tuesday night, the Twins' Johan Santana, arguably the AL's best pitcher right now, struck out six in six innings and allowed two hits to complete a remarkable July performance. Santana had a pretty good June, going 4-1 with a 2.39 ERA. But he was overpowering this month: In accumulating a 3-2 record, Santana surrendered just 14 hits in 46 innings, striking out 61. He allowed six earned runs in six starts.
Big Bruises: Twins third baseman Corey Koskie was hit by pitches three times in Wednesday's game, prompting an eighth-inning warning to both teams by home plate umpire Ed Montague. Then, in his first plate appearance Wednesday, Koskie was hit again. But Koskie seemed to be the victim of stray pitches, rather than leftover anger from Monday's game. That night, Hunter ran over Chicago catcher Jamie Burke while scoring on a sacrifice fly, hitting Burke so hard that the catcher had to be taken to the hospital for examination. Burke was on the infield side of home plate as he set up to block the dish, and had his full complement of equipment on, including his face mask. Rather than try to slide around the play -- and perhaps get blocked off -- Hunter charged into Burke like a defensive back, leveling the catcher. "I wasn't trying to hurt him," Hunter told the Associated Press. "I was just playing the game like you should play the game." White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said, "I know he went out of his way."
Big Hitting Woes: The White Sox are without injured sluggers Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas and are floundering, desperate for offense. They mustered only four hits Tuesday, and have scored a total of 11 runs in their last four games; they never led at any point in the series against Minnesota.
Big Breather: Reeling from the sweep at home, the White Sox head into a soft portion of their schedule, needing to capitalize. Among their next 14 games, they have six games with Kansas City and four against Cleveland and Detroit. "We have to move on and play better right now," White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We're only 2½ games out. We've been there before and battled back. This team is kind of streaky."
Big Challenge: In a season when the AL wild-card race figures to be a dogfight, the Twins are headed into perhaps the most important part of their second-half schedule. Minnesota now has three games against the Red Sox, three versus Anaheim and four against Oakland -- all contenders.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released Aug. 17, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.
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