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Rodriguez, Santana lift Twins over Royals

Sep 27, 2006 - 3:14 AM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Luis Rodriguez's sacrifice fly in the eighth inning drove in the go-ahead run and Johan Santana pitched eight strong innings to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

The victory kept Minnesota (94-63) within one game of the first-place Detroit Tigers in the American League Central Division. The Tigers (95-62) defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-3, on Wednesday. Minnesota and Detroit each has five games remaining.

Minnesota went ahead when Torii Hunter singled, advanced to third on a pair of passed balls by Paul Phillips and scored when Rodriguez lofted a fly ball to deep center off Joel Peralta (1-3).

Peralta gave up a broken-bat infield single to Morneau to start off the inning, with Morneau reaching safely because a piece of his bat flew towards Peralta, keeping him from covering first base. Hunter's single put runners on first and second with nobody out.

Rodriguez came on to pinch hit for Phil Nevin and was attempting to sacrifice when the first pitch got by Phillips and allowed the runners to move up 90 feet. The next pitch also got by Phillips, but took a friendly carom and the catcher was able to nail Morneau at the plate for the first out.

But Rodriguez, hitting for the first time since September 3 at New York, drove the ball to center field and Hunter scored easily.

"I don't think (Rodriguez has) hit for a month, I don't think he's had an at-bat for a month," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire. "We go to pinch-bunt him and they throw a wild pitch, Morneau gets thrown out on a wild pitch - that was entertainment - and then he comes up with the big sac fly."

"The most impressive thing for me was to watch Luis get that sac fly," Twins catcher Mike Redmond said. "We talked all day long (Monday) about all the different guys who have stepped up and gotten clutch hits. Luis hasn't played much, but he went up there and had a heck of an at-bat and got that run in."

Acting Royals manager Billy Doran said the passed balls were just a matter of bad luck.

"There are just certain things that happen that you don't have answers for," Doran said. "Those things happen, sometimes they happen at the most inopportune times. We were lucky to get out of there with just one run being scored."

Santana (19-6) worked eight innings, allowing two runs and seven hits. He struck out five without a walk in what was his final audition to earn his second Cy Young Award in three years.

"For sure," Redmond said. "Absolutely. He deserves it. He's helped in a lot of situations. When we've needed a big performance, he's stepped up and gotten it done."

The lefthander increased his major league-leading strikeout total to 245 and also improved to 12-0 at home.

Santana will get a week to rest as the Twins will hold him out of action until the first game of the American League Divisional Series. But even without a chance to reach 20 wins for the second time in his career, Santana's resume likely will prove more than enough to take home some more hardware.

"We're not done yet," Santana said. "I would like to get 40 wins if it were possible, but that's the way it is. There are a lot of things you cannot control. As long as I'm out there, I'm going to try to win games. Nineteen is a great number. I'll just keep working on it and hopefully the World Series would be nice too. That would be really nice."

Joe Nathan worked around a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to record his 36th save.

The Royals originally took a 2-0 lead in the third when Esteban German smacked a two-run single, scoring David DeJesus and Angel Sanchez.

The Twins sliced the deficit to 2-1 in the bottom of the frame when Lew Ford hit his fourth homer to left. Minnesota tied the game in the sixth as Redmond, Michael Cuddyer and Morneau hit consecutive singles to start the inning and Hunter delivered a sacrifice fly to center.

Kansas City starter Odalis Perez allowed two runs and seven hits in six innings.

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