Eric Milton looks to earn his first win since October and help the Twins extend their six-game winning streak as they open a three-game series with the Tigers at the Metrodome.
Minnesota took a giant step toward repeating as AL Central champion by sweeping a three-game series from the second-place Chicago White Sox. The Twins increased their lead to 3 1/2 games with Thursday’s 5-3 victory.
They also moved 45 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Tigers, who fell 10-6 to the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday for their sixth straight loss.
Detroit must win five of its last 10 games to avoid matching the 1962 New York Mets’ post-1900 record of 120 losses.
“We are just about out of gas right now,” manager Alan Trammell said. “We are having a lot of trouble putting nine innings together and keeping a team down. Some of that is due to inexperience, but a lot of it is because of the losing. That wears on you. We’ve got 10 games left, and we have to find a way to get through this.”
Jacque Jones hit two homers and drove in four runs Thursday for the Twins, who play seven of their final nine games against the Tigers.
Milton, who had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee in March, made his first start of the season Sunday, giving up two earned runs and five hits in five innings of the Twins’ 5-3 win over the Cleveland Indians.
The veteran left-hander, who went 13-9 with a 4.84 ERA last season, had not pitched in a regular-season game since Sept. 29, 2002.
“I was pretty calm,” he said. “It felt like another game. I was concentrating on each pitch. I was very pleased. I wouldn’t take one pitch back.”
Milton will be facing Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman, who returns to the rotation after spending most of September in the bullpen.
The rookie right-hander was removed from the rotation after going 0-3 with a 8.85 ERA in his last four starts, and has since made three relief appearances.
Bonderman, who has been working on a new windup, is 0-3 with an 11.68 ERA— his worst mark against any team—in three starts against the Twins. On Aug. 1, he gave up seven earned runs and 10 hits in just 2 1-3 innings of a 10-4 loss at the Metrodome.
Bonderman is two losses shy of joining teammate Mike Maroth as the first 20-game losers since Oakland’s Brian Kingman in 1980. If he doesn’t lose Thursday, he would be in no danger of joining Maroth—and if he does lose, Trammell might opt not to give him a chance at the mark.
STANDINGS: Tigers - 5th place, 45 1/2 GB, AL Central. Twins - 1st place, AL Central.
TIGERS PROBABLE STARTER: Bonderman (6-18, 5.49 ERA). Bonderman gave up just two hits in four scoreless innings of relief Sunday in the Tigers’ 7-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, but he did not receive a decision.
TWINS PROBABLE STARTER: Milton (0-0, 3.60 ERA). Milton is 5-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 17 career starts against the Tigers.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Tigers - Dmitri Young, .282 avg., 28 HRs, 76 RBIs and 71 runs; Alex Sanchez, 37 SBs. Twins - Jones and Shannon Stewart, .307 avg.; Torii Hunter, 26 HRs and 100 RBIs; Stewart, 86 runs; Luis Rivas, 17 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Twins, 11-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Tigers - Detroit has been swept in a series 20 times this season, matching its total from last year. … SS Ramon Santiago drove in a career-high four runs Thursday. … OFs Young and Sanchez were given the night off Thursday. Twins - LHP Eddie Guardado earned his 38th save in 41 chances Thursday. … 3B coach Al Newman, who suffered a brain hemorrhage last week in Chicago, underwent an angiogram on Thursday, but the results were inconclusive. … OF Jones’ multihomer game Thursday was the eighth of his career.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Tigers - 18-57 on the road; Twins - 43-33 at home.
INJURIES: Tigers - INF Eric Munson (thumb), 15-day DL; INF Dean Palmer (shoulder), 60-day DL; INF Danny Klassen (groin), day-to-day. Twins - RHP Mike Fetters (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Joe Mays (elbow), 60-day DL.