With Shannon Stewart at the top of the order, the Twins kicked into gear
On the morning of July 16, Shannon Stewart was in the middle of a quiet breakfast at one of his favorite restaurants in Toronto when he got an unexpected call on his cellphone. It was Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who informed his 29-year-old leftfielder that, after 11 seasons with the organization, he'd just been traded to Minnesota. Minutes later, with Stewart still in shock over the news, Twins G.M. Terry Ryan called him. "We need someone to jump-start this team," Ryan, whose team was 7� games behind the Royals in the AL Central at the time, told Stewart. "We need you to be that guy."
Dealt for promising outfielder Bobby Kielty, Stewart has been everything Ryan had hoped for and more. At week's end Minnesota was 43-20 since acquiring Stewart—the best mark in the majors during that span—and the Twins were riding a nine-game winning streak that helped them bust out to a 5�-game lead over the Royals and the White Sox.
"Would we be where we are now without him?" asks manager Ron Gardenhire. "It's tough to think so." Stewart is one of only five players in the majors to have hit .300 and scored 100 runs in each of the past four seasons, and through Sunday he was batting .308 with 88 runs. Stewart also was tops among AL leadoff men in on-base percentage (.366).
"We've got a bunch of hackers in the lineup," says catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "[ Stewart] has calmed us all down. He works deep into every count, and that's trickled down to everyone else and made us aware of being more patient."
Minnesota will need to maintain its recent production from its lineup in order to advance through the playoffs. "Everything is coming together," says closer Eddie Guardado. "We're peaking at the right time."
Thome Carries Phillies
A Move That Paid Off Big Time
Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Phillies, who at week's end were a half game behind the Marlins for the National League wild card, have gotten their money's worth out of first baseman Jim Thome, the former Cleveland Indian who signed the richest free-agent deal in club history—six years, $85 million-last December.
Despite moving to a new league, batting in a mediocre lineup and playing in a home ballpark (the spacious Veterans Stadium) that's not as hitter-friendly as Cleveland's Jacobs Field, Thome had socked 44 home runs through Sunday and had driven in 126 runs while batting .268.
Thome's thunderous 43rd homer was the go-ahead run in last Thursday's 5-4 victory—the Phils took two of three from the Marlins—and marked the 12th time this year that he had homered to give his team a lead. Following the blast, the city's new favorite son was called out of the dugout by the crowd for the third time in three days.