MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins rekindled some of the intensity they'd lost since clinching their division.
And more importantly, Eric Milton found his rhythm.
"We're just trying to get back to playing our kind of baseball,'' said Kielty, whose Twins were playing their first home game since clinching the AL Central in Cleveland Sept. 15. They were swept in Chicago last weekend to finish a 4-5 road trip.
"We were getting after it a lot better than the last few
games,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Guys were out there
smiling, having a little fun.''
Milton was able to crack a smile, too, after his best outing since a knee injury that put him on the disabled list for a month -- allowing a run, six hits and a walk while striking out three and throwing 95 pitches in 6 2/3 innings.
"I was just trying to get back into game shape,'' said Milton, who still hasn't won since Aug. 1 -- his last start before he got hurt. "Trying to get my focus on every single pitch.''
Even Jim Thome's 48th homer, second in the AL, came on a decent
pitch -- a fastball low and away leading off the fourth inning.
Thome, who extended his streak of reaching base to 50 straight
games, was impressed. Much more so than in their last meeting, when
Cleveland clobbered him for nine runs in 1 2/3 innings.
"His fastball had more pop than a week ago,'' Thome said. "He threw some really nice breaking balls. Sure, he's just off the disabled list. But he's still a big guy they can count on because he does such a nice job.''
This was a critical start for Milton, who was pitching like
Minnesota's ace earlier this summer before tearing his left
meniscus in August and then missed a month. He's scheduled to pitch
Game 4 of the Twins' division series, if it's necessary.
"I'm really, really proud of Eric Milton,'' Gardenhire said. "He's been working very, very hard to get himself back into position.''
A.J. Pierzynski led off the ninth with a double against David Elder (0-2), and pinch-runner Mike Ryan took third on a sacrifice by Luis Rivas. Dustan Mohr and Cristian Guzman were both
intentionally walked, and Kielty hit a fly to medium left field
that was deep enough for Ryan to slide past Chris Magruder's throw.
The crowd of 21,634 was treated to a pregame ceremony honoring
the Twins' first postseason berth since 1991.
Highlights of the team's champagne-drenched clinching
celebration in Cleveland were shown on the scoreboard, players and
coaches came out on the field to acknowledge the Homer Hanky-waving
fans and a red banner that read ''2002 AL Central Division
Champions'' was uncovered behind the foul pole in right field.
Cleveland's Ricardo Rodriguez, making his seventh start since his major league debut on August 21, pitched effectively for six innings. He gave up three runs, four hits, three walks and struck out four.
The Twins, still ninth in the AL in home runs despite better power numbers this year, put together the type of rally in the third inning they'll have to produce to be successful in the playoffs.
Pierzynski walked, took third on a double to the gap by Luis Rivas and scored on a groundout by Dustan Mohr. Ortiz later drove in Rivas with a single.
The Twins went ahead 3-1 in the fifth with the help of the
Metrodome's lively turf -- one of several home field advantages that
Minnesota will also need in the postseason.
Bobby Kielty hit a ground ball just past the diving reach of second baseman John McDonald that sped all the way to the warning track for a triple. Kielty scored when Ortiz hit a hard grounder that zoomed under McDonald's glove for an error, but Ortiz was credited with an RBI.
Twins 3B Corey Koskie left the game after fouling a ball off his right ankle. X-rays were negative. ... Thome hit his 20th career Metrodome homer. That's the most he's hit anywhere outside of Cleveland's Jacobs Field. ... Twins rookie OF Michael Restovich, a Rochester, Minn., native, made his home debut but struck out as a pinch-hitter.