BALTIMORE - The Twins are headed home after a losing road trip -- but are headed home relieved.
"We haven't really been playing the way we wanted to play," slugger Jim Thome said after the Twins' 3-1 victory over the Orioles on Thursday night. "To come out of here with a split and come back home with a win it is big, no doubt."
There were signs of relief throughout the visitors' clubhouse as the Twins held on to split the four-game series at Camden Yards. They completed the road trip 3-5, which should be unacceptable. But these Twins will take the three wins, hoping to run with them.
"Not a great road trip," manager Ron Gardenhire said, "but if you look back at it, we had two leads in Tampa and lost two saves in Tampa, so it could have been a really good road trip.
"As much of a struggle as it looks like, we still could have had a decent road trip. But tonight was a good way to go home. It's time to go back and do some relaxing."
Righthander Scott Baker dominated, working all four sides of the strike zone with all his pitches. Mentally, he said, he is back to where he needs to be following offseason elbow surgery. Baker is throwing all his pitches with confidence, including the changeup, the pitch he struggled with during spring training.
Baker (1-2) shut out Baltimore for seven innings on four hits with one walk and a season-high nine strikeouts.
Jim Thome hit career home run 591 with a blast to right-center in the second and Michael Cuddyer added a solo shot to left in eighth.
The bullpen gave up a run in the eighth, but Matt Capps came on in the ninth and earned his third save.
Pitching and pop. It looked like the Twins team they are supposed to be.
"I wouldn't count us out by any means," Baker said.
Under pressure to win despite injuries and illness, getting through their eight-game road trip became a daily survival exercise. Challenges kept coming at them.
There was Joe Mauer's injury/illness scare last week before the first game of the road trip against Tampa Bay.
Joe Nathan removed himself from the closer's role rather than cost his team late-inning leads.
Justin Morneau has a mean case of the stomach flu.
Delmon Young has been sick and also has sore ribs.
The Twins are/were a wounded animal trying to avoid becoming roadkill.
"I don't feel it's been one thing after another," Gardenhire said. "I know it's been one thing after another. We just lived it."
Gardenhire has tried to win games without his middle of the order and with a short bench. He finds himself also trying to keep spirits up back home. He said before Thursday's game that he is aware the Twins' fan base is grumbling.
"I know there's a lot of concern in Minnesota about our baseball team," he said. "A lot going on. I've been hearing through the Internet and some friends back there that it's been pretty wild. Our team is really scuffling. I just ask people to relax a little bit and calm down.
"Stay with us and go shovel the snow out of the yards, because we're coming home to play some ball."