BOSTON (AP)—Justin Morneau’s teammates gathered around the television showing the final moments of Detroit’s loss that moved Minnesota within a half-game of the AL Central lead.
He was too busy discussing how he helped the Twins get there to pay much attention.
“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.”
They weren’t on Aug. 7 when they trailed Detroit by 10 1/2 games. Since then, the Twins are 24-15 and have 12 games left. Detroit has 11 remaining.
“It’s kind of exciting,” Torii Hunter said. “We’re actually rooting for the Chicago White Sox. Can you believe that?”
The Twins maintained their 4 1/2 -game lead over Chicago in the wild-card race. Boston’s magic number for elimination in the AL East was cut to one, and its magic number for elimination from the wild-card berth dropped to four.
“We haven’t been in this situation for a long time,” Doug Mirabelli said, “but you still have to be professional and go out there and do the things that you need to do to win ballgames.”
They didn’t do nearly enough Tuesday, although they did stage a mild comeback from a 6-0 deficit after three innings. Jason Bartlett’s three-run homer in the four-run second inning, his second of the year, and Hunter’s two-run shot in the third, his 27th, helped Minnesota put together the six-run lead.
Both of the homers came off Tim Wakefield (7-10), who lasted just 3 1-3 innings in his second start since spending nearly two months on the disabled list with a stress fracture of the rib cage. It was only the fourth time in 152 starts at Fenway Park that he didn’t pitch more than 3 1-3 innings.
Morneau entered the game in an 0-for-11 slump. But with his father in the stands, he singled in the seventh run in the ninth, completing a 5-for-5 night in which he had two doubles, three singles, scored two runs and drove in another. He raised his batting average to .326 and his 124 RBIs are second in the AL to David Ortiz’s 129 for Boston.
He could be the AL Most Valuable Player after the season.
“I guess if you want attention, you do it in markets like Boston,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Hopefully, if we get to the playoffs he’ll be rewarded.”
Another MVP contender, Ortiz, who was with the Twins when Morneau was coming up through their system, was impressed.
“I knew he was going to be that good,” Ortiz said. “He’s still learning but it seems to me he’s great already.”
The Twins got their ninth win in 11 games with solid pitching from Matt Garza (2-5).
The Red Sox cut a 6-0 deficit in half but got no help from Ortiz, who went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and remained one homer short of the Red Sox record of 50, set by Jimmie Foxx in 1938.
“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”
Garza allowed just one hit in the first four innings. He left with two outs in the sixth and Minnesota leading 6-2. Dennys Reyes pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings while a misty rain grew heavier and has allowed just one earned run in 35 appearances since the All-Star break.
Joe Nathan pitched the ninth as the Twins improved to 76-0 when leading after eight innings. Another mark of their solid pitching is their 27-1 record in their last 28 games when they score four runs or more.
Morneau led off the second with a double and scored on Rondell White’s single. After a walk to Phil Nevin and a wild pitch by Wakefield, Bartlett homered. In the next inning, Hunter homered after Morneau singled. In the ninth, Morneau singled home Michael Cuddyer, who had doubled.
Boston’s only hit through four innings was a single by Kevin Youkilis. The Red Sox scored in the fifth on singles by Eric Hinske and Doug Mirabelli and a sacrifice fly by Alex Gonzalez and added two runs in the sixth on Hinske’s run-scoring single and Mirabelli’s RBI double.
Youkilis left the game after three innings with a neck strain and was replaced in left field by rookie David Murphy. … The Twins remained the only team Ortiz hasn’t homered against this season. He made his major league debut with Minnesota in 1997. … Boston and Minnesota have met just four times with the Twins winning all the games. … Minnesota’s Luis Castillo stole second after each of his first two singles and has 23 stolen bases for the season. … Hunter left the game in the bottom of the seventh after fouling a ball off his front leg while batting in the top of the inning. He said he’ll play Wednesday. … The Red Sox posted their 300th consecutive regular season sellout at Fenway Park with a crowd of 36,242.