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Hunter's two-run homer gives Twins triumph over Orioles

Sep 24, 2006 - 12:21 AM BALTIMORE (Ticker) -- Clutch hitting and relief pitching have been keys all season for the Minnesota Twins. That combination was too much for the Baltimore Orioles.

The Twins scored all of their runs with two outs, Torii Hunter hit a go-ahead homer in the fifth inning and the American League's best bullpen made it stand as the Twins kept the pressure on the Detroit Tigers with an 8-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Rondell White went 4-for-4 for Minnesota (91-63), which remained 1 1/2 games behind Detroit in the AL Central but a comfortable 5 1/2 games ahead of Chicago in the wild card race.

"Our baseball team played hard and I think you saw that all night, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was a grind 'em out type ballgame."

Coming into the contest leading the major leagues with a .290 average with two outs and runners in scoring position, the Twins added to that figure when White singled home the game's first run off Baltimore starter Erik Bedard (15-10) in the second inning.

"Everybody came up with big hits today. That's nice to see at this time of the year," Cuddyer said. "Nobody's panicking, guy's aren't worried about anything, they're still playing hard and still coming up big for us."

Minnesota added three more runs in the third. Runners on second and third both scored after Michael Cuddyer struck out but reached second on a throwing error by catcher Ramon Hernandez.

"I've never seen that happen," Cuddyer said. "It was the turning point in the game."

"I threw it away. It slipped out of my hands and it got away," Hernandez said. "They scored three runs instead of one. When you make plays like that, you deserve to lose, I guess."

Justin Morneau gave Minnesota a 4-2 lead when he singled home Cuddyer for his 126th RBI - matching Harmon Killebrew's 1962 total for second most in franchise history. Killebrew holds the club record with 140 RBI in 1961.

After Baltimore scored two runs and knocked out Minnesota rookie starter Scott Baker in the fourth, Hunter hit a two-run homer, his 29th of the season and eighth this month, off Bedard in the fifth for a 6-4 lead.

That play when two runners scored on a strikeout was bigger than my home run," Hunter said. "Everybody was real excited about it."

That was all Minnesota's vaunted bullpen, which entered with a major league-best 3.06 ERA, needed.

Six relievers combined to allow just one unearned run and five hits over 5 1/3 innings as Minnesota improved to 78-0 when leading after eight innings.

Matt Guerrier (1-0) pitched 1 1/3 innings for his first major league win. Joe Nathan logged a perfect ninth for his 34th save in 36 chances.

"Our bullpen was huge," Gardenhire said. "It was a big win for us."

Nick Punto had an eighth-inning RBI single and Lew Ford added a run-scoring base hit in the eighth to cap the scoring for the Twins, who rapped 19 hits and went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Brian Roberts and rookie Nick Markakis had two hits apiece for Baltimore.

Bedard, who had won his first three September starts, struggled, allowing six runs - three earned - and 12 hits in just 4 2/3 frames. The Canadian lefthander yielded 19 hits and two earned runs in 20 innings over his last three outings.

"I can't remember the last time I didn't make it past five innings," Bedard said. "They are a good hitting ball club."

Baker, who had won two of his last three starts since returning to the rotation, was tagged for four runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.

Minnesota first baseman Phil Nevin left the game in the fifth inning with a bruised left wrist.

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