The Minnesota Twins have been aiming for first place in the AL Central for two years. Two months of scrapping and believing have them one-half game away.
The season seemed to be slipping away from the Twins in July, but they now have a chance to take over the top spot in the AL Central when they face the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday in the middle game of their series at Fenway Park.
Justin Morneau had a career-high five hits, and Jason Bartlett and Torii Hunter homered as the streaking Twins (89-61) beat the Red Sox 7-3 Tuesday to move within one-half game of the division-leading Detroit Tigers.
Minnesota can overtake Detroit with a win and a Tigers loss Wednesday.
“We keep getting closer and closer a little bit every day,” Morneau said. “The only thing we can really control is if we win, and the rest will take care of itself. But we’re in a good spot right now.”
Minnesota hasn’t been atop the division since the end of the 2004 season and has spent this entire year chasing the Tigers, who conclude a three-game set with the White Sox on Wednesday.
The Twins were 12 games out of first place after a 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians on July 13, but have since gone 42-21 to make up ground on the Tigers, who lost to the Chicago White Sox 7-0 on Tuesday.
Minnesota, trying to claim its fourth division title in five years, also maintained its 4 1/2 -game lead over the White Sox in the wild-card race.
Joe Nathan pitched the ninth Tuesday as the Twins improved to 76-0 when leading after eight innings. They are also 27-1 in their last 28 games when they score four runs or more.
Boof Bonser (5-5, 4.52 ERA) gets the start Wednesday for Minnesota and looks to continue his solid stretch run. The rookie right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA in his last five starts.
“I don’t think about that,” Bonser said of the pressure to pitch well with the team’s playoff hopes on the line. “I want to go out there and give us a chance to win each time.”
Bonser gave up three runs and five hits while striking out six in 5 2-3 innings, but did not factor in the decision in a 9-4 win over the Cleveland Indians on Thursday. He has never faced the Red Sox.
Boston’s magic number for elimination in the AL East was cut to one Tuesday, and its magic number for elimination from the wild-card berth dropped to four.
Curt Schilling (14-7, 4.13 ERA) will make his first start for the Red Sox since Aug. 30. He was sidelined by a mild strain in his right side. Manager Terry Francona said the ace is expected to throw about 80 pitches, but won’t face a strict limit.
Schilling, trying to win 15 games for the eighth time in his career, has lost his last three decisions. The 39-year-old right-hander gave up six runs and 11 hits in 5 1-3 innings in a 7-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics in his most recent outing.
The Red Sox (81-70) cut a 6-0 deficit in half Tuesday but got no help from David Ortiz, who went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and remained one homer short of the Red Sox single-season record of 50, set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938.
The Twins remain the only team Ortiz hasn’t homered against this season. He made his major league debut with Minnesota in 1997.
“I just play my game,” Ortiz said. “When you’re thinking about hitting a home run, it’s time to walk away from the game”