Baker pitches Twins to 2-1 victory over Orioles

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The smiles and loud music in the Minnesota clubhouse was only partly caused by a victory Monday night. It had more to do with how the Twins won.

For one night in a season filled with inconsistent pitching, Minnesota looked like the Twins of the last few years, beating the Baltimore Orioles 2-1.

There was Scott Baker’s(notes) seven-inning performance of four-hit, one-run ball. There were several key defensive plays to end innings. And there was some timely hitting.

“In the past, the lower scoring games have been the games we’ve normally won with the good pitching,” said outfielder Denard Span(notes), who scored the winning run and made a great catch while crashing into the bullpen railing.

“This year hasn’t been like that,” Span said. “We’re just going to try to continue to ride this feeling out and come to the field everyday and be thankful that we are battling for a chance to go to the playoffs. And Detroit, here we come.”

Minnesota matched its season-high winning streak of four as it tries to gain ground on Detroit and the White Sox in the American League Central. The Twins were 4 1/2 games back of the Tigers and two behind Chicago entering Monday.

Minnesota, which has now won six of seven, moved within one game of .500 (62-63).

Baker’s performance was a boost for a Minnesota team that is trying to gain some much-needed momentum.

For Baker (12-7), who retired 10 consecutive Orioles at one point, this was the latest in a string of strong starts. After opening the season 2-6, Baker has gone 10-1 with a 3.67 ERA since June 1.

“The story of the game was pitching, pitching, pitching,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Bake was really good.”

Baker, who struck out five and walked one, did a good job moving his fastball to both sides of the plate and kept the Orioles off balance all night. While Baltimore scored the game’s first run in the top of the third, the Orioles would get only one more runner in scoring position until the ninth.

“I had the one inning where I don’t want to say I mentally lost it or anything, but I had to maintain my focus after that inning,” Baker said. “I was throwing the ball down in the zone all night and that’s what I try to do and try to be as efficient as possible.”

Jose Mijares(notes) pitched a perfect eighth for the Twins. Then Joe Nathan(notes) issued a pair of two-out walks in the ninth before striking out Matt Wieters(notes) to earn his 32nd save.

As good as Baker was, Baltimore rookie Chris Tillman(notes) (1-2) was up to the matchup. Aided by three double plays, the 21 year old, who was making only his sixth major league start, didn’t allow a runner past second base until the sixth inning.

“Against that lineup and in this place, I’d pay to watch him pitch again,” Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said. “He did a nice job. If Tillman pitches like that, he’s going to win a lot of games.”

But the Twins got some timely hitting in the sixth.

Alexi Casilla(notes) tripled to lead off the sixth and scored on a wild pitch, tying the game at 1. After Span and Orlando Cabrera(notes) singled, Tillman struck out Joe Mauer(notes) before intentionally walking Justin Morneau(notes) to load the bases.

After Mark Hendrickson(notes) replaced Tillman, Span scored on Jason Kubel’s(notes) sacrifice fly for a 2-1 lead.

That turned out to be just enough offense for the Twins.

“You can see the excitement, you can feel the excitement that we’re going to find a way to win,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the feeling you have to have. We feel better about ourselves.”

NOTES: Morneau returned to the lineup after missing six games because of an inner ear infection. He went 0 for 2 with two walks. … Minnesota rookie right-hander Armando Gabino(notes) is scheduled to make his major league debut on Tuesday night against the Orioles. Largely a reliever at Triple-A Rochester, Gabino was 5-3 with a 2.93 ERA for the Red Wings. … With his third-inning RBI double, Baltimore’s Brian Roberts(notes) has now reached base safely in 26 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the majors. … The sod for the field at Target Field—where the Twins will play starting in 2010—was expected to arrive in Minneapolis from Colorado on Monday night.

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