MINNEAPOLIS - Joe Mauer put his smooth batting-title swing on a fifth-inning fastball from Gavin Floyd and watched it soar to left field, as it has so many times this season at Minnesota's new ballpark.
Another fly ball to the warning track, he figured. Ah, but this time, the ball reached the seats.
Mauer had four hits, two RBIs and his first regular season home run at Target Field, leading the Twins past the Chicago White Sox 7-6 on Wednesday night to increase their season-high lead in the AL Central to five games.
"I've hit a lot of balls that way that have died, so it's good to get one over the wall," said Mauer, who is batting .446 in 112 at-bats since the All-Star break with 15 doubles and 30 RBIs.
The Twins trailed 5-3 entering the bottom of the fifth against Floyd (8-10), but Mauer's opposite-field solo shot cut into the lead before a three-run sixth sealed it.
The Twins have won nine straight at home and 24 of their last 31 overall. Mauer, the reigning AL MVP, has been a huge part of that, raising his batting average to .335 during his midsummer surge. This was his eighth homer of the season, down from a career-high 28 last year, due in part to the deceptively deep power alleys at Target Field.
"It messes on you mentally," Mauer acknowledged. "You try to do different things that are out of what makes you do well. Yeah I fell into that trap a little bit, but you try to just have good at-bats and stick with your game."
Matt Capps gave up a run the ninth one night after blowing the save, but he recovered in time for his 31st save of the season — five with Minnesota. Jeff Manship (1-0) and Jesse Crain got six outs in relief for a struggling Francisco Liriano.
Andruw Jones hit a three-run homer for the White Sox, but they fell to 15-17 since their 26-5 run that stretched one game past the All-Star break. They are 4-10 this season against the Twins, who improved to 33-17 against the Central and reached 20 games above .500 for the first time in nearly two years.
The Twins, who had to rally from big deficits to win division titles in 2006 and 2009, were wary of expressing too much confidence.
"It's not that we have their number," right fielder Jason Kubel said. "We've just been playing well."
Liriano walked four and needed 106 pitches to get through five innings, slamming his glove and cap down in disgust when he reached the dugout at the end of his last inning. The Sox got their fifth run when he fielded Carlos Quentin's comebacker and threw to second for a force, allowing Alex Rios to race home and score when the relay to first was a bit late to get the double play.
But Liriano was all over the place, giving up consecutive walks to start the second before Jones smashed his 17th homer into the bullpen for a 3-2 lead right after pitching coach Rick Anderson came out for a visit.
That ended a streak of 96 1-3 innings by Liriano without giving up a long ball, the second-most in Twins history. Bert Blyleven went 99 innings in 1974-75. Liriano has allowed only three homers this season.
Manager Ozzie Guillen was upset the White Sox didn't take further advantage of Liriano's wildness.
"We should've scored more runs," Guillen said. "We couldn't get it done."
The players tried to stay positive.
"There are so many games left, and teams go on streaks," Floyd said. "We all believe that we can still do it. There's no doubt about that. So we need to keep battling."
But this was another unquestionably stinging defeat.
"We've got like a month left, basically," Jones said. "We need to go out there and see what happens.
Jim Thome struck out three times, but he walked after Michael Cuddyer's chalk-dust double down the third-base line to start the sixth. Delmon Young doubled in Cuddyer to tie the game at 5, and Danny Valencia hit a grounder that shortstop Alexei Ramirez grabbed with an off-balance scoop.
Ramirez fired across his body to try to get the not-so-sleek Thome, who was thrown out at the plate on Tuesday, but the ball arrived home late and off target while a sure out at first base was wasted. J.J. Hardy's sacrifice fly, caught by Juan Pierre as he banged into the left-field wall, drove in Young for a two-run lead.
Notes: Mauer's double was his 39th, tied for most in the league and already a career high. ... Pierre stole two bases to give him a majors-most 47. The last time a White Sox player led the league in that category was Luis Aparicio in 1962.
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