Twins 2, Rangers 0

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Brad Radke, Torii Hunter and the rest of the Minnesota Twins were on the brink of contraction three years ago. Now they’re poised for a third straight division title.

Radke had a season-high nine strikeouts in eight innings to give Minnesota a three-game sweep of Texas and a nine-game lead in the AL Central with a 2-0 shutout of the Rangers on Thursday night.

“I hate to be cocky, but if we lose this lead right here I don’t think we should have a team,” Hunter said.

“This is when teams make themselves or break themselves,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We have to come out with some intensity now and finish this thing off.”

Radke (10-7) had the Rangers off balance all night, striking out the side in the fourth and retiring eight straight during one stretch. He allowed five hits and walked one in Minnesota’s seventh shutout.

“Maybe he knew I wasn’t out there in center field, so he struck out a few more guys,” said Hunter, who was in the lineup as the designated hitter.

“Yeah that’s a good point, instead of him robbing home runs,” Radke said when told of Hunter’s theory. “Thanks, Torii.”

Joe Nathan threw a perfect ninth for his 37th save, completing the combined five-hitter as the Twins took their largest division lead of the season.

Kenny Rogers (15-7) allowed just one run in six-plus innings, but Texas tied a season high with its fourth straight loss and fell 5 1/2 games behind Oakland in the West.

“When you lose three in a row and the teams you’re chasing win all three, it hurts and makes the hill harder to climb,” Rogers said. “But, by no means is it over.”

The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Lew Ford led off with a single, Cristian Guzman walked and both moved up on Michael Cuddyer’s sacrifice. Rookie Terry Tiffee followed with an RBI groundout, giving him three RBIs in his first two big league games.

Frank Francisco’s wild pitch in the eighth scored Guzman to make it 2-0.

Rogers allowed four hits, struck out three and tied a career high with seven walks. Rogers, who went 13-8 with Minnesota last season, made his first trip back to the Metrodome and received a warm ovation when he left in the seventh.

The Rangers haven’t won in the Metrodome since July 13, 2002. Part of the reason may be bad luck—Hank Blalock hit a foulball off a speaker in the eighth that bounced back into play and was caught by Guzman for an out.

“This is the way baseball is,” said Kevin Mench, who extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games with a triple in the second. “We played tough and to come up on the short end is frustrating.”

The Rangers had a great chance in the fifth when Mench and Gary Matthews Jr. led off with consecutive infield singles to put runners on the corners. But Radke struck out Gerald Laird, got Dave Dellucci to line out and Michael Young to fly out.

“I think, knowing our guys, we’ll come out competing again tomorrow,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We competed real well there against a good club and we’ll play a good one tomorrow.”

Gardenhire was ejected by first-base umpire Charlie Reliford in the seventh for arguing. Minnesota had loaded the bases with no outs when Hunter grounded into a 5-2-3 double play, although it appeared he beat the throw to first.

Notes

Radke has won three of four starts, allowing just one earned run combined in those wins. He allowed a career-high 15 hits and nine earned runs in his last start, which was at Anaheim and went just 5 2-3 innings. … Minnesota improved to 57-1 when leading after eight innings. … Mark Teixeira ended his hitting streak at 11 games, and Blalock ended his at 12.

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