MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ One night after watching 39-year-old slugger Jim Thome lumber out a triple, Denard Span put his young legs to work in a big, big way. Span tied a modern-era record with three triples and had five RBIs to get the Minnesota Twins back into first place in the AL Central with an 11-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.
“He definitely inspired me,” Span said with a smile, recalling Thome’s first triple in seven years on Monday night. “A triple for me is like hitting a home run for a power hitter.”
Span also had a single and walked for the Twins (42-35), who moved a half-game ahead of the Tigers (41-35) one night after losing their division lead for the first time since early April. He became the first player since Atlanta’s Rafael Furcal in 2002 to hit three triples in a game.
Nick Blackburn (7-5) ended a June swoon with his first victory of the month. He gave up four runs and seven hits with four strikeouts in seven innings.
Armando Galarraga (3-2) allowed six runs and seven hits in four innings for the Tigers, who learned earlier in the day that setup man Joel Zumaya will miss the rest of the season with a fractured right elbow.
The speedy Span led off the first inning with a gapper to right-center, hit another triple to right field in the fourth that scored two runs and tied the record with a high drive that hit the wall in right field just below the limestone overhang, driving in three more runs to give the Twins a 10-3 lead in the fifth inning.
Playing the Tigers at Target Field was a perfect storm for Span, who is a .403 hitter lifetime hitter against Detroit. This year he is hitting .385 at home and .192 on the road.
“I needed a game like this, personally,” Span said. “Hopefully this gets me going.”
Thome added a solo homer in the seventh, the 572nd of his career, which moved him within one of tying Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew for 10th place.
The 35th consecutive sellout crowd at Target Field gave Span a standing ovation when he walked to the plate in the seventh inning, then booed lustily when Enrique Gonzalez walked him.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever come to the plate like that,” Span said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Many other players have hit three triples in a game since 1900. The only other Twin to do it was Ken Landreaux in 1980.
“To hit three triples, that’s really unheard of,” said Tigers rookie Austin Jackson, a fleet-footed guy himself. “When a guy’s putting the ball in play like that with runners, it’s tough to get those runs back.”
The outburst couldn’t have come at a better time for Blackburn, who staggered into this start 0-4 with a 12.05 ERA in June and talk of his spot in the rotation being in jeopardy.
The right-hander got behind in the third inning after giving up a two-run double to Johnny Damon and an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera that gave Detroit a 3-2 lead.
Span’s second triple of the night just got over the glove of right fielder Magglio Ordonez, who has been bothered by a strained oblique muscle and appeared a step slow while trying to run that ball down. Thome and Nick Punto scored for a 5-3 lead and the Twins batted around in the fifth to put the game out of reach.
“It was his day,” Galarraga said. “It seemed like everything he hit was to the lines and in the holes.”
The race between the Twins, Tigers and White Sox in the AL Central is shaping up as another down-to-the-wire thriller in a division that has needed 163 games to crown a champion each of the last two seasons.
The Tigers will have to hang in without Zumaya, who broke his elbow while throwing a fastball on Monday night. Zumaya will miss the rest of the season, but doctors are optimistic about him returning to the mound in 2011.
NOTES: Damon had two hits and two RBIs. … Tigers LHP Fu-Te Ni was tagged for four runs on two hits with four walks _ one intentional _ in 2-3 inning. … Twins 3B coach Scott Ullger missed the game for personal reasons. Bench coach Steve Liddle filled in. … Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said SS J.J. Hardy (wrist) will likely begin a rehab assignment Wednesday with Class-A Beloit. The Twins hope to have him back at some point during the Tampa Bay series, which begins Thursday.