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PHI@MIN: Plouffe's homer puts the Twins on the board

MINNEAPOLIS -- After numerous twists and turns through the season's first two months, the Twins' starting rotation began to establish some dependability. Wednesday raised the possibility of more turmoil.

Starter P.J. Walters left the game against Philadelphia with right shoulder pain and stiffness after surrendering four straight hits to open the game. The early struggles allowed the Phillies to establish an early six-run lead, and despite a late rally, Minnesota lost, 9-8, in front of 32,581 at Target Field.

Jim Thome's single brought home two runs and prompted Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the training staff to visit Walters on the mound. After moments of deliberation, Walters was pulled from the game in favor of reliever Jeff Manship. Walters complained of not being able to get loose and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Thursday.

"It's just one of those things," Walters said. "I was stiff and just kind of couldn't get it going. Guys pitch all the time through stuff like that. Today it just wasn't going to loosen up for me."

Walters, who struggled in his previous two starts after quality starts in his first four outings, saw his ERA balloon from 4.42 to 5.40.

Gardenhire said Walters showed no previous indication of injury, and he attempted to talk Gardenhire out of pulling him during the mound visit.

"There's no inkling," Gardenhire said. "He hasn't been in the training room. He's had no problems that we've known about.

"I said, 'You're not fine. What's going on here?' He said 'Skip, I'm fine, I can do this.' He was trying to protect our bullpen. Finally told me he had a sore shoulder."

Manship didn't immediately fare much better, giving up an RBI single to Carlos Ruiz and a three-run homer to John Mayberry. The Phillies owned a 6-0 lead after the first, and the score was 7-1 after Mayberry's RBI double in the third.

"As a reliever, you never want to give up anybody else's runs," Manship said. "And that ended up happening today, so I was a little upset at myself."

The Twins chipped into the deficit in a big way with a four-run seventh. Brian Dozier lifted a leadoff double to the left-center-field fence before Jamey Carroll walked. Denard Span ripped a double down the third-base line to score Dozier and knock Phillies starter Cole Hamels out of the game, bringing in Antonio Bastardo. Ben Revere continued the rally, placing a single through the left-field hole to score Carroll. Joe Mauer followed with a single through the other side, scoring Span to make it a 9-7 game.

Justin Morneau's groundout drove in Revere. Ryan Doumit came up with an opportunity to tie the game but struck out to end the inning with Philadelphia's lead reduced to 9-8.

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon limited the drama in the ninth inning, retiring all three batters in order after notching the final out of the eighth.

"The Twins can hit, man," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "The American League teams with the DH and stuff like that, their lineup is good. They hit some balls hard. They stayed right there with us. They didn't go away."

Thome brought his former team's fans to their feet for a standing ovation in the fourth. He provoked the applause after hitting a two-run homer over the batter's eye in center field, an estimated 466-foot shot -- the third-longest in Target Field history.

"As Reggie Jackson said, that's the deep water," Gardenhire said of Thome's towering blast. "Only a few boys can go in the deep water, and he went in the deep water."

Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham both hit solo home runs for the Twins against Hamels. Plouffe's was his sixth in his last 10 games and 11th of the season, while Willingham's was No. 13 and extended his hitting streak to 15 games.

Minnesota also scored two runs in the third. Mauer drove in Carroll after reaching on a fielder's choice throwing error that allowed him to take second. Revere singled before Mauer and scored when Willingham grounded into the second out of the inning. Morneau walked but Hamels struck out Doumit to end the inning.

Despite the final result, Gardenhire was pleased with his team's resolve.

"It was a fun ballgame after the first couple of innings, because the guys were really into it and they never gave up," Gardenhire said. "I was really proud of the way they went after the game there. You can always lay down or you can come out fighting. And they came out fighting."

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