Minnesota (83-59) moved within two games of division-leading Detroit on Sunday as Johan Santana pitched the Twins past the Tigers 12-1, giving them three wins in the four-game series. The last time the Twins were this close to first place was April 13, when they were three back.
“We’re now in a pennant race,” third baseman Nick Punto said. “We haven’t been in one all year, and now we are.”
Minnesota also increased its lead over the Chicago White Sox to 1 1/2 games for the wild card.
Detroit is off Monday, while Chicago plays at Los Angeles.
Santana won his 15th straight home decision with 6 1-3 effective innings and Punto had four hits and three RBIs for Minnesota, which took the last three games of the series. Torii Hunter added three hits and scored three runs as the Twins won for the ninth time in 14 home games.
“It’s not going to get any easier from here on out,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We have to come to play every night, and you can’t give anything away and no one is going to give it to you. It’s all about earning it, and this was a good series for us.”
For Minnesota to keep rolling, it will have to find a way to slow down Frank Thomas. The A’s slugger homered for the fifth straight game Sunday, hitting a solo shot in the fourth inning as Oakland (82-60) won for the 12th time in 17 road games, 9-7 over Tampa Bay.
Thomas’ streak matched a club record. He has 12 RBIs during the torrid stretch.
“He’s a tremendous example to the rest of the guys,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “He’s carried the club.”
The A’s remained 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Angels in the AL West.
Minnesota has won four of seven meetings from Oakland this year, including a three-game sweep at the Metrodome from April 11-13.
“When we went in there and got swept early in the year, I was very impressed with a lot of things they did,” Macha said. “Their pitching staff is very good, particularly their bullpen. Their defense is outstanding. They’ve got good team speed. They’ve got the leading hitter in the league.”
Twins starter Carlos Silva (8-13, 6.30 ERA) is 0-3 with a 6.33 ERA over his last four outings. He pitched well in his last start Wednesday, allowing one hit over six innings in a 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay.
Silva, though, departed after the sixth due to an upset stomach. He had thrown only 59 pitches and faced the minimum 18 batters, and the Minnesota bullpen blew a 2-0 lead.
“I didn’t want to say, ‘No, I can’t do it,”’ Silva said, “but I said to myself I’m starting to feel a little bit weary. We have the best bullpen in the league.”
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.97 ERA in five starts against Oakland.
Oakland’s Joe Blanton (15-10, 4.66), scheduled to take the ball Monday, is 7-2 with a 4.16 ERA over his last 10 starts. He’s looking to win a third straight decision after beating Texas 9-6 on Wednesday in a shaky outing, giving up six runs and 11 hits over six innings.
The right-hander is facing the Twins for the second time this year after losing 8-2 on April 13. He allowed seven runs and 11 hits in six innings.