Twins 2, Tigers 1

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—This is Boof Bonser’s third stint in the majors this season. His recent pitching performances suggest he won’t be getting sent back down again.

Bonser brought Minnesota a little bit closer in the tightening three-team race in the AL Central, striking out five and allowing only five hits in seven strong innings in the Twins’ 2-1 win over the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night.

Minnesota moved within three games of the division-leading Tigers with the victory.

“He’s been getting better. Just to see what he did tonight, I’m pretty confident when he gets on the mound now,” said Torii Hunter, who had Minnesota’s only RBI on a second-inning single against Tigers starter Nate Robertson (12-12).

But Bonser (5-5), the stone-faced, right-handed rookie with the peculiar first name, was good enough to give the Twins their second straight victory over Detroit. Afterward, he was all smiles, acknowledging his best big league outing to date.

“That felt great, man,” said Bonser, who walked two. “One run against that team? I’ll take it.”

The Chicago White Sox, who beat the Cleveland Indians 10-8, stayed a half-game behind Minnesota, which will throw All-Star ace Johan Santana on Sunday with a prime chance to win three out of four in the series. Santana hasn’t lost in the second half and hasn’t been beaten at the Metrodome in his last 21 starts.

“Anything’s possible,” said Detroit’s Curtis Granderson, who struck out three times. “We can still come out here and get a split.”

Pat Neshek struck out two in a perfect eighth, and Joe Nathan handled the ninth for his 30th save. Between Bonser, Neshek and Nathan, the Twins retired the last 17 Tigers batters.

Bonser had to work out of plenty of sticky spots early, with two runners on in the first and the bases loaded in the third. He didn’t let anyone score, though, until the fourth when Sean Casey drew a leadoff walk, took third on Brandon Inge’s double and scored on a groundout to first off the end of Omar Infante’s bat, cutting the Minnesota lead to 2-1.

He hasn’t been dominant by any means, but Bonser, one of three rookies currently in the rotation, has done an impressive job since being called up a month ago for the third time this season. In his last five starts, Bonser is 3-1 with 10 runs allowed in 30 2-3 innings.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was most pleased by the way he changed speeds and pitched ahead in the count, especially in the later innings when he was needed to give a tired bullpen some rest.

“I think he sees what makes you successful in this league,” Gardenhire said, “and that’s attacking and making your pitches.”

The Twins were excited, too, by news of left-hander Francisco Liriano’s successful rehab start for Triple-A Rochester in the International League playoffs. He threw three hitless innings and will rejoin Minnesota’s rotation next week, probably Wednesday.

Robertson pitched seven innings, allowing six hits, two runs, one earned, and one walk while striking out five. He impressed manager Jim Leyland by pitching through pain after Mike Redmond hit him with a line drive in the midsection at the end of the third.

“It was tremendous,” Leyland said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that. It’s just unbelievable. One of the best pitching performances I’ve seen.”

Robertson’s only blemish was in the second, when Michael Cuddyer started with a single and—as he ran by Infante on a chop hit by Justin Morneau— distracted the second baseman enough to cause a misplay.

The ball rolled into right field and Cuddyer came all the way around to score. Morneau took third on Magglio Ordonez’s high throw home and scored when Hunter smacked a 2-2 pitch into left field.

“I’m not going to make this a big, dramatic story,” Robertson said. “I pitched through it. Wish we could have won the ballgame. We didn’t.”

Notes

With Minnesota’s 82nd win, Gardenhire is guaranteed his fifth straight season above .500. The last manager to start a career with five straight winning seasons was Toronto’s Cito Gaston, from 1989-1993. … Robertson has received only 24 runs of support in his 12 losses. … Bonser, for the record, legally changed his given name, John, to his childhood nickname, Boof, in 2001.

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