Twins win again, run streak to seven

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 19, 2006

PITTSBURGH (AP) &045; Most games decided by six runs don’t feature a pitchers duel. This one did, even though it ended with a familiar finish: Johan Santana won again and Oliver Perez lost again.

Minnesota turned two infield grounders and a single by Mike Redmond into the decisive run in a four-run eighth inning and another loss for Perez against a Cy Young Award winner, and the Twins finished off a three-game sweep by beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-2 Sunday.

With Justin Morneau adding a three-run double in the eighth, the Twins won their seventh in a row and ninth in 10 games. They have swept their last two series, against the Red Sox and Pirates, to reach the .500 mark (34-34) for the first time since they were 7-7.

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&8220;Everything right now is working pretty good, and it seems like we’ve put everything together and we’re more consistent from the starting rotation to the bullpen,&8221; Santana said. &8220;It’s about being consistent in everything we do.&8221;

Santana (7-4), the 2004 AL Cy Young Award winner, held the Pirates to a run and five hits over seven innings and is 7-1 in 11 starts since losing his first three. He had five strikeouts and no walks, giving him 91 strikeouts and seven walks in 79 innings in those 11 starts.

&8220;Perez was matching everything Santana threw up there,&8221; Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

&8220;We finally broke through with some big at-bats. But it was a very well-pitched game, and that was pretty impressive.&8221;

The final score didn’t indicate how well Perez pitched in his second consecutive loss to a Cy Young Award winner &045; he was beaten 2-1 Tuesday as the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter struck out 13.

Perez (2-9) permitted only two singles and retired 14 of 15 batters before Torii Hunter homered into the left-field seats with two outs in the seventh for Minnesota’s first run.

&8220;I think the momentum changed when Torii hit that home run,&8221; Redmond said. &8220;It was like, ‘Hey, we can get this guy,’ and sure enough we did.&8221;

An inning later, Luis Castillo ended an 0-for-28 streak on the road by beating out a soft line drive that short-hopped Jack Wilson, who made an outstanding play at short just to make an off-line throw to first. Still, Perez appeared to get out of the inning when Nick Punto grounded softly between the mound and the third-base line.

But Perez mishandled the ball for an error, putting runners on first and second, and Redmond gave the Twins the lead with his RBI single. Morneau extended his hitting streak to 10 games with his bases-loaded double against reliever Salomon Torres, and the Twins added three more runs in the ninth against Ryan Vogelsong.

&8220;We’ve been kind of waiting for it all year,&8221; Morneau said. &8220;When we pitched, it didn’t seem like we hit, and when we hit it didn’t seem like we pitched. Hopefully, we can keep it going.&8221;

Pirates manager Jim Tracy felt Perez should have gotten out of the eighth with no scoring. Tracy said, &8220;I’ve seen that play made&8221; when asked about Castillo’s infield single &045; a comment that dumbfounded Wilson.

&8220;Wow, he said that?&8221; Wilson said. &8220;That’s his opinion. I did my best to make that play. It was a jam job, a soft line drive and I’m going full bore for that ball. About the only chance you have on that play is if the third baseman can get to it.&8221;

Perez appeared to be developing into one of the majors’ top young pitchers while going 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts in 2004. But he regressed while going 7-5 last season, and he has been erratic again this season &045; lasting only 12 innings in his previous three starts, all losses.

&8220;That’s tough to go against those guys because everyone knows they are good pitchers,&8221; Perez said of facing Carpenter and Santana. &8220;In a game like this, you hope to keep them to a run and get to the bullpen late in the game, because you know those guys are going to pitch tough.&8221;

The Pirates gave Perez a 1-0 lead in the fourth on Freddy Sanchez’s two-out double and Craig Wilson’s RBI single. Two innings before, another Pirates base running mistake cost them a potential big inning after Jason Bay doubled and Sanchez singled with none out. With Craig Wilson batting, Sanchez got trapped in a rundown between first and second, causing Bay to take off and be tagged out at the plate.

The night before, the Pirates had two runners thrown out on the bases in a 5-3 loss to the Twins.