Two months ago, the Minnesota Twins’ deficit in the AL Central looked insurmountable. Not anymore.
The Twins begin a three-game series which could potentially see them climb atop the division for the first time all season as they face the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday at Fenway Park.
By winning eight of 10, Minnesota (88-61) has pulled within 1 1/2 games of first-place Detroit. The Twins haven’t been atop the division since the end of the 2004 season as they’ve spent this entire year chasing the Tigers, who continue a three-game set with the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
Minnesota is 4 1/2 games ahead of Chicago for the wild card.
“We know what’s at hand,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “If you can’t get read to play in Boston, you can’t play anywhere. It’s a great atmosphere.”
The Twins were 12 games out of first place after a 6-4 loss to Cleveland on July 13, but have since gone 41-21 to pull into contention. Minnesota is trying to claim its fourth division title in five years.
The Twins began their final road trip of the season by taking three of four games from Cleveland, including a 6-1 win in Sunday’s finale. Minnesota follows this series with a three-game set at Baltimore.
“We’re hot right now,” said Hunter, whose two-run single keyed the Twins’ four-run third inning. “We’ve been playing well for quite a while.”
The Twins are playing particularly well on the road, winning 20 of 27. They swept three games against the Red Sox from June 13-15 in the only series of the season between these teams.
Boston (81-69) is coming off a busy weekend, winning three of four games against the New York Yankees in back-to-back doubleheaders. The Red Sox won both contests Sunday, taking the first game 6-3 and the nightcap 5-4, beating the Yankees twice in one day for the first time in 30 years.
David Ortiz hit his AL-leading 49th homer in the opening game and Kevin Youkilis added a three-run double in the seventh before leaving with a jammed right shoulder. Coco Crisp robbed Jorge Posada of a two-run homer in the eighth inning of the second game and Mark Loretta hit a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the ninth.
“Unfortunately with where we are in the standings, it’s more of a moral victory than anything else,” Loretta said. “We played some pretty good baseball. We’re going to grind out the rest of the schedule. We’re professionals, we’re going to play hard.”
The Red Sox have won six of eight, but are 9 1/2 games behind first-place New York in the AL East and 7 1/2 back of the Twins for the wild card.
Tim Wakefield (7-9, 4.19 ERA) makes his second start for Boston since missing nearly two months with a stress fracture in his rib cage.
The knuckleballer lost in his return from the disabled list on Wednesday, allowing four runs—three earned—and a season-high 10 hits over five innings in a 4-0 defeat to Baltimore.
“This was the first time in my career I had been hurt this long a period of time and rehab took longer than was expected,” he said. “I am very thankful to be back rather than taking the rest of season off. … I felt better than I thought I would feel. I wish the outcome was better.”
Wakefield has had positive results at Fenway Park, however, going 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his last five starts there, with his last loss coming May 23.
The veteran right-hander is 11-3 with a 3.90 ERA in 21 career games, including 18 starts, versus the Twins, but lost his only outing against them this year. He gave up four runs and eight hits over six innings in a 5-3 defeat on June 15.
Twins second baseman Luis Castillo is batting .500 (7-for-14) during his career against Wakefield while Nevin is hitting .421 (9-for-18) with three homers and 10 RBIs against him.
The Twins will give the ball to Matt Garza (1-5, 5.50), who is hoping to build on a strong outing. The rookie right-hander replaced the injured Francisco Liriano, out for the season with a sore elbow, in the third inning of Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Oakland. He allowed one run and eight hits over 5 2-3 innings while walking one and striking out four.
“Garza came in and stepped up and did a super job,” Gardenhire said. “He picked us up big time and gave us every opportunity to win a ballgame. That’s what these guys in the clubhouse have been doing.”
Minnesota has averaged just two runs in Garza’s seven outings, failing to score in three of them.
Garza, who has lost his last three decisions, is facing Boston for the first time.