Hunter, Bartlett team to dispatch O's
Center fielder, shortstop go combined 6-for-8 with eight RBIs
BALTIMORE -- The Twins have been waiting for the entire second half to string together a stretch of victories that they felt would put them right back in the division race.
The time may be now.
The Twins, who extended their winning streak to four games with an 8-1 victory over the Orioles on Saturday night, have now won six of their last nine. It's the type of streak they felt they needed to remain in the American League Central hunt.
"You have to run some wins off to stay in this thing," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Guys are into it; we're coming up with some clutch base hits, bunting guys over and just executing when we need to. Those are the things that have to happen for you to get back in the race or to stay in one."
With Cleveland's victory over Kansas City, the Twins had to win to keep pace in the division. The club still trails the Indians by 5 1/2 games, but the feeling right now is that the club is on the verge of making itself into a contender.
"The last couple days, we've been swinging the bats pretty well," Torii Hunter said. "We need to keep it up and stay consistent. But I think we've got a chance of coming back in the division."
A nearly two-hour rain delay got the game off to a laborious start, and Twins starter Matt Garza didn't do anything to help ease it along.
Garza's outing was one that he had to battle through, throwing a lot of pitches early. And as Garza's pitch count started to rise, so, too, did his number of baserunners allowed.
"We talked about keeping the pace going after [the delay], but it just became a long outing," Gardenhire said. "It wasn't the prettiest thing, and he knows it."
The right-hander notched just two strikeouts on the night while issuing a total of four walks. At times, it looked like those walks might prove costly. Garza had already given up one run in the third when he granted consecutive two-out walks to load the bases. But after a quick meeting on the mound, Garza got Aubrey Huff to ground out to second base to end the inning.
Still, Garza found himself in jams throughout most of his outing. But he managed to work his way out of most of them, giving up just one run over five innings.
The limited damage was in part due to some spectacular plays by his defense. Such was the case in the fifth inning when Garza put runners on first and second with just one out. Miguel Tejada then hit a hard grounder up the middle that shortstop Jason Bartlett fielded on a diving nab. To beat the runner to second, Bartlett had to make a toss with his glove hand to second baseman Nick Punto, and Garza would yet again find his way out of trouble.
"It was one of those games where I felt like I had great stuff, but at times, I was ahead of myself because I was anxious to deliver," Garza said. "But I got into jams, and fortunately, I was able to get out of them. I made some big pitches and let that defense take over."
Bartlett was all over the field defensively to aid Garza, but his contributions weren't limited to just his glove. The shortstop provided plenty of offense, too, going 4-for-4 with a walk on the night. He also tallied two RBIs and two runs scored.
The RBIs came on a two-out single in the third inning that gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead. Bartlett's single came after Orioles rookie starter Radhames Liz issued back-to-back walks to Jason Kubel and Brian Buscher to start the inning. But it was a sacrifice bunt that Punto laid down to advance the runners on a 95-mph fastball from Liz that Gardenhire pointed out as a highlight of the inning.
Liz impressed the Twins with the life on his fastball, hitting 97-98 mph consistently with it in his Major League debut. And after getting out of the third with just the two runs, Liz (0-1) would settle down to retire six straight batters over the next two innings. That included a four-pitch fifth inning.
"It's live," Torii Hunter said of Liz's arm. "He throws gas. The first time around, we didn't know whether his ball was sinking or cutting. We saw that he had a nice firm fastball, and I think the second time around, we started cheating to it. But it took me three times to get to it."
Hunter was able to get to that fastball in the sixth. After a leadoff single by Jason Tyner and a Bartlett walk started the inning, Hunter took a 97-mph fastball deep as he belted a three-run shot into the left-field stands. It was Hunter's 26th home run of the season and also extended his hitting streak to 12 games. He is batting .388 during the streak.
"Torii has been playing really good for a long time," Gardenhire said. "I don't know if it's just a roll for him. He hasn't really missed a beat this year."
The club then added two more runs off the Orioles' bullpen in the eighth, but it came at the expense of their catcher. Joe Mauer delivered his first hit of the game, a single to left, in that inning. But it was on the ensuing play, a double by Hunter down the left-field line, that Mauer injured his left leg.
While rounding second base going from first to third, Mauer pulled up and limped to third base. He left the game with tightness in his left hamstring and is listed as day-to-day.
Losing Mauer for a significant time would be blow that could shake the Twins' confidence at a time when it seems to be the highest it's been since the All-Star break.
"We need him," Hunter said of Mauer. "We don't want Joe out. We're trying to catch the Cleveland Indians, and Joe -- this guy has a .400 on-base percentage. Hopefully, tomorrow he feels a little better."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.