Timo Perez and Tigers top Twins 4-2, keep pace in Central race

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Detroit Tigers are in a tough spot, but the defending American League champions started a crucial road trip the right way—with a rally, a key walk and a win.

Timo Perez drove in three runs, Nate Robertson won for the first time in six starts, and the Tigers topped the Minnesota Twins 4-2 on Friday night for their eighth win in the last 11 games.

Robertson helped the Tigers stay within 5 1/2 games of Cleveland in the AL Central and 3 1/2 games of the New York Yankees in the wild card. After playing the Twins two more times, Detroit has three with the Indians next week.

“We’ve got to win as many as we can and hope we catch a break,” manager Jim Leyland said. “But we’ve just got to keep playing.”

Defending division champion Minnesota dropped to 14 games back with 15 to play, after Matt Garza fell to 0-10 in 11 career starts at the Metrodome.

Robertson (8-11), who surrendered five hits, three walks and two runs while striking out five in seven innings, was the catalyst. Todd Jones finished it for him with a perfect ninth inning, notching his 35th save in 40 chances.

Injuries have been a huge problem for Detroit, especially on the pitching staff. The playoffs are still possible, but the Tigers put themselves in a hole and the Indians have so far avoided the late fade that Detroit went through last season to allow the Twins to catch them on the final day.

“It’s a funny thing, if you keep putting pressure on teams that haven’t been through the walk,” Jones said. “If we keep pressure on teams that haven’t done it, maybe they hick one up and we can steal a game or two and with a week to go it’s a one-game lead. It happened to us last year.”

Justin Morneau finally hit his 30th homer, giving Minnesota a 2-1 edge in the fourth. He had gone deep just once in his previous 47 games for the Twins, who lost for the eighth time in their last 11 games.

The reigning AL MVP’s recent power drought is just one example of this frustrating season for the Twins, who saw Torii Hunter and manager Ron Gardenhire lose their tempers in the eighth inning.

Hunter was called out on a checked-swing strikeout by first base umpire Chad Fairchild, who ejected Hunter for yelling and pointing at him as he retreated to the dugout.

“I apologize to my fans and my teammates for the way I reacted, but I had to do it. Sorry ‘bout it,” Hunter said. “He was right, I was wrong, to be politically correct.”

Gardenhire was too late to protect Hunter, but he chewed Fairchild out and got tossed, too. Hunter came running out of the dugout and had to be restrained. After giving up, he added some comic relief by making a motion to mockingly throw Fairchild out of the game.

Former teammate Jacque Jones called Hunter on his cell phone to razz him, and Hunter—who figured he would be fined—put Jones on speaker for everyone in the clubhouse to hear how loud Jones was laughing.

Control problems got Garza (3-6) in trouble. He issued a second-inning walk to Carlos Guillen, who scored on a single by Perez. In the sixth, with two outs and the bases loaded, Ivan Rodriguez fouled off pitch after pitch until the last one from the right-hander tailed inside for ball four.

Rodriguez stared straight ahead and let out a celebratory scream for forcing in the tying run before taking his base with a rare walk. Juan Rincon relieved, and Perez stroked a two-run single to make it 4-2.

Garza gave up four hits and four walks while striking out two. He was charged with all four runs. Though Garza downplayed the effect, manager Ron Gardenhire said he thought the right-hander lost his focus after failing to get a third-strike call from plate umpire Larry Vanover with Gary Sheffield batting in the fateful sixth.

“No matter how the game goes, you’ve got to keep your mind out there and you’ve got to stay composed,” Gardenhire said.

Notes

This was Perez’s first three-RBI game since May 1, 2005, when he played for the Chicago White Sox. … Morneau became the first Minnesota player to hit 30-plus homers in consecutive seasons since Gary Gaetti did so in 1986-87. … The Twins, who have removed struggling right-hander Boof Bonser from the rotation, plan to decide Saturday whether right-hander Carlos Silva will make his next start. … Tigers right-hander Jeremy Bonderman will play catch next week to test his ailing elbow. Pinched cartilage is expected to keep him from pitching again this season. … Gardenhire was ejected for the seventh time this season and the 35th time in his six-year career.

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