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ON BASEBALL

On this night, Ford put Minnesota in driver's seat

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Millar calls Beaumont, Texas, home. Lew Ford was born in Beaumont, Texas, and it was in Lew Ford's glove that Millar's best chance for a home run in the last 62 days died.

''Torii Hunter wouldn't have caught that ball," Millar lamented afterward.

Well, true. Hunter, the Twins' splendid center fielder, is likely out for the season after fracturing his left ankle July 29 in Fenway Park, when his spikes got caught in the padding of the center-field triangle.

''I can't make every play Torii Hunter makes," Ford said afterward. ''He's a Gold Glover."

Ford's leaping catch at the 408-foot sign, when he reached over the wall to bring back Millar's drive, was only incidental to the Twins' 12-0 win over the Sox last night. By the seventh inning, when Ford committed his grand larceny, the Twins already held a 7-0 lead over a Sox team that spent most of the night self-destructing. But it was germane to the kind of player Ford is, coming out of a background that has more than southeast Texas (Beaumont is about 90 miles from Houston) in common with Millar's.

Millar wasn't drafted out of a southern school (Lamar) and wound up playing independent ball before the Marlins discovered him. Ford wasn't drafted out of high school, wasn't drafted after his junior year at a southern school (Dallas Baptist), and after being taken in the 12th round as a senior by the Sox in 1999, was lightly regarded as a prospect before the Sox dealt him to the Twins for the long-since-forgotten Hector Carrasco a year later.

But while Ford is no Torii Hunter -- outside of a young Ken Griffey Jr., who is? -- he played like Hunter last night, running down Millar's drive to left-center in the second inning, making a diving catch of Johnny Damon's sinking liner in the sixth, before taking away Millar's home run bid in the seventh.

''He's a good outfielder," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''Buddy Bailey told me a long time ago, when he was managing in the minor leagues for the Red Sox, and he told me he was as good a center fielder as he saw in the minors. He had him down in Venezuela, and he talked a lot about Lew."

The Twins had fallen upon hard times lately. They'd lost six in a row, including three straight in Boston last weekend, and hadn't been hitting a lick until Wednesday, when Ford's ninth-inning triple beat the red-hot A's and triggered the unveiling of ''Chacarron-Chacarron," the debut effort of those Spanish rappers with a techno beat, Twins players Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, and Juan Castro, who recorded the song while the team was in Detroit. The beat is catchy, but the lyrics may need some work.

''Too much, too much," Gardenhire said, shaking his head. ''We got Silva singing, and he definitely likes it, too. It would sell, too. My kids would buy it."

The song shook the clubhouse walls after that win, and it played again over and over last night, when the Twins scored the most runs they've scored in a game all season, and Ford contributed with the bat as well, touching off the Twins' four-run first with a triple over Damon's head, and beating out two infield hits.

''Lew's always running around like that," Gardenhire said. ''It's fun to see. The crowd gets into it, the way he chops the ball and runs."

Ford, who hit .299 with 15 home runs and 72 RBIs in his first full season last year, had come into the night with just eight hits in his last 58 at-bats.

''He's been struggling this season, battling those second-year blues," Gardenhire said, ''but one thing you can say about him: He comes to play every night. He busts his butt every night."

Ford, a computer science and electrical engineering major in college, has a little bit of Napoleon Dynamite in him. He's been known to dash out of the clubhouse to pinch hit, only to run down the tunnel toward the team bus rather than the tunnel to the field. He denies, however, having ironed his shirt while still wearing it, saying the burns on his torso came from somehow bumping into the appliance.

''Lew's just Lew," Gardenhire said. ''He's definitely a fun guy to have around."

Last night, it wasn't much fun for Millar.

''I hope we can keep [Millar's] streak going a couple more days," Gardenhire said, ''until they get out of here. But then it can end. Millar is a fun guy to watch play baseball. He reminds me of a guy playing baseball in the street."

The dusty streets of Beaumont, with Lew Ford around the block.

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