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Thome's power comes in handy

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Jim Thome has given the Minnesota Twins the kind of productivity that many employers can only wish for from their workforce.

Sure, Thome is making $1.5 million this season, a sum most people will never see. Relative to Major League Baseball's rich marketplace, though, Thome's 16 home runs in 204 at-bats has been quite the bargain.

Even better for the Twins is that Thome, who turns 40 later this month, declined the opportunity to return to Chicago when the White Sox decided they wanted more flexibility with their lineup.

The Twins lead the White Sox by three games in the AL Central standings, entering a critical three-game series between the two at Target Field that starts tonight.

"I can't react to what they did or didn't do. The bottom line is I'm happy to be here. I'm glad the Minnesota Twins called me, and they wanted me," Thome said on Sunday, after his three-run homer and Kevin Slowey's seven no-hit innings fueled the completion of a three-game sweep over the Oakland Athletics.

With his down-home, gentle-giant demeanor, Thome is one of the least likely players to ever criticize or taunt a former team. When asked if facing the White Sox this season has been strange, however, his face lit up.

"It's been fun. I've had a blast," Thome said. "I have a lot of friends there, but you want to beat your friends. That's what it's all about. ... They have a very good team, and we take nothing for granted. I think if you control your own business, hopefully in the end you'll be where you want to be."

With the addition of speedster Juan Pierre, the White Sox have become more of a small-ball-style team. They've been looking for left-handed power, though, since trading Thome to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the pennant drive last season. In less than four full years with the White Sox, Thome hit 134 homers.

The Twins, who have won seven straight at home and 19 of their last 24 games overall, have resisted temptation to use Thome more often. First baseman Justin Morneau's absence has created more opportunities, but manager Ron Gardenhire must heed Thome's history with back problems or risk a reinjury.

"If you overuse him you're going to probably lose him a little bit," Gardenhire said. "He's in great shape and he's feeling great, and we're trying to keep it that way."

Thome is usually one of the earliest arrivals at the ballpark, when he starts an extensive routine to keep his back loose and limber and his swing sharp and strong.