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Josh Willingham was greeted by Brian Dozier and the rest of the team after hitting a two-run homer off Justin Masterson, his 27th homer of the season and 11th of July. It was also the Twins’ first hit of Saturday’s game.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

twins vs. cleveland, late Up next: 1:10 p.m. today vs. Indians at Target Field • TV: FSN (1500-AM)

Willingham's latest blast gets Twins offense rolling

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • July 29, 2012 - 8:49 AM

The Twins haven't had a player hit 40 home runs in a season since Harmon Killebrew smashed 41 in 1970.

Last year, Michael Cuddyer led them with 20. Now, newcomer Josh Willingham is on pace for 43.

Killebrew, who died last year, would have loved watching Willingham's powerful righthanded swing and his ability to change games for the Twins.

The latest example came Saturday, when Cleveland sinkerballer Justin Masterson retired Minnesota's first 11 batters. Joe Mauer walked and stole second base, and then Masterson threw a hanging slider, which Willingham drilled for home run No. 27.

Pretty soon, the rout was on. With 29-year-old rookie Samuel Deduno delivering another strong start, the Twins rolled to a 12-5 victory before a sellout crowd of 39,166 at Target Field.

In two games, the Twins have outscored the Indians 23-5, and Saturday's victory moved Minnesota out of last place in the American League Central for the first time since April 25.

Alexi Casilla had four RBI -- with a two-run triple followed by a two-run double -- and Denard Span and Ben Revere added two RBI apiece. Players up and down the lineup have racked up hits the past two nights, but few have been as impressive as Willingham, who homered in both games and now has a team-high 78 RBI.

"He just continues to just amaze you, just watching him swing," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Willingham hit a career-high 29 home runs last year for Oakland. Eighteen of those homers came after the All-Star break.

"I went on the DL last year one time, and that set me back a little bit," he said, "But I had a pretty good second half last year powerwise."

That success continued into this year. After signing his three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins, Willingham homered in four of his first six games, and he has added 11 in July.

That's why it seemed so risky for Mauer to try stealing a base in the fourth inning.

He was the first baserunner against Masterson (7-9), and as Mauer said about Willingham, "Just get on base, you're in scoring position for him."

But Mauer said he noticed Masterson using a high leg kick out of the stretch, which slowed his delivery to the plate. Mauer said with two strikes he figured Willingham at least would have had a fresh count the next inning if he'd been thrown out to end the inning.

Gardenhire said the Twins gave Mauer the green light, and he slid in safely with his fifth stolen base of the season.

"You can't just stand there on Masterson," Gardenhire said. "You're going to have to try to get him out of his rhythm some way or another. Mauer stealing his base, maybe takes his mind off [Willingham]. With a guy on second, they've got to change their signs, all those things, so give Mauer credit."

And give plenty to Deduno, too.

In his fourth start for the Twins, the righthander held Cleveland to one run on two hits over seven innings. Deduno (2-0), who earned his first major league victory in his previous start at Kansas City, had five walks and six strikeouts, but this made him effectively wild.

"He's got a lot of movement on his pitches," Mauer said. "With him, I sit in the middle and just tell him to aim down. Some [fastballs] will cut, some will sink. But as tough as it is to catch, it's probably tougher to hit."

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