Twins 8, Orioles 5

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BALTIMORE (AP)—During a game in which Torii Hunter homered and Minnesota got 19 hits against the Baltimore Orioles, the most significant play in an uplifting victory for the Twins was a strikeout by Michael Cuddyer.

The swing-and-a-miss led to three runs, and Minnesota won 8-5 Saturday to inch closer to a playoff berth.

The outcome eliminated Boston from postseason contention and enabled the Twins to reduce their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to three. Any combination of Minnesota wins and Chicago White Sox losses totaling three will ensure the Twins no worse than the wild card.

Minnesota could also get in as the AL Central winners. The Twins remained 1 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit, which routed Kansas City 15-4.

The game turned in the third inning, when Minnesota scored three runs to go up 4-2. With two on and two outs, Cuddyer whiffed on a breaking pitch in the dirt. But the ball got away from catcher Ramon Hernandez, who then threw it over the outstretched glove of first baseman Kevin Millar for an error.

Two runs scored on the play, and Justin Morneau hit Erik Bedard’s next pitch up the middle for a single that scored Cuddyer.

“That was the best strikeout I’ve ever had. It ended up that way, at least,” Cuddyer said. “It was exciting because it was two runs, and we were able to add to that.”

It was a miserable day for Hernandez, who went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. But the play he will remember most was the throw that went awry.

“It slipped out of my hands and it got away,” he said. “They scored three runs. When you make plays like that, you deserve to lose, I guess.”

The Orioles came back to tie it, but Hunter put the Twins ahead for good with his 29th homer in the fifth inning after Cuddyer reached on a fielder’s choice. Hunter, however, insisted that his home run wasn’t nearly as important as Cuddyer’s K.

“There’s no doubt it was the turning point in the game. It put us up, and we were able to add to it,” Hunter said. “It took some momentum from them and put some in our direction as well.”

Morneau’s run-scoring single following Hernandez’s error gave him 126 RBIs, tying Harmon Killebrew for the second-highest single-season total in Twins history. Killebrew had 140 in 1961 and 126 in 1962.

Chris Gomez got a pair of hits for the Orioles to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games, but Baltimore didn’t have enough firepower to overcome a 4-for-4 performance by Rondell White and Hernandez’s error.

“We didn’t execute when we had to and it cost us several runs,” Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Baltimore starter Erik Bedard (15-10) allowed a career-high 12 hits and three earned runs in 4 2-3 innings, which didn’t help.

“We didn’t help out in the field, and that makes for a not-so-good day,” Perlozzo said.

Baltimore closed to 6-5 with an unearned run in the fifth against Matt Guerrier (1-0), who pitched 1 1-3 innings to earn his first win in 89 career appearances.

Nick Punto hit an RBI single in the eighth and Lew Ford singled in a run in the ninth.

Joe Nathan, the seventh Minnesota pitcher, got three outs for his 34th save.

“Our bullpen was huge,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We had lost a couple in a row, and didn’t want to get into a rut. It was a big win for us.”

The Orioles went up 1-0 in the first inning when Brian Roberts hit a leadoff single and scored on a two-out double by Miguel Tejada.

Minnesota tied it in the second. Cuddyer walked and went to third on a single by Hunter, who was called out at second trying for a double—even though replays indicated he beat the tag. White followed with an RBI single.

In the bottom half, Jeff Fiorentino hit a sacrifice fly after a throwing error by shortstop Jason Bartlett and a double by Millar.

Notes

Twins 1B Phil Nevin left with a bruised left wrist. X-rays were negative. … Orioles strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop announced that he will retire after this season, his 14th with the club. … It was Bedard’s shortest stint since June 1. … Baltimore turned four double plays. … Tejada extended his hitting streak to 11 games and moved within five hits of tying Cal Ripken’s club record for a season (211).

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