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Mauer homers in ninth as Twins tie Tigers for lead

Sep 29, 2006 - 3:42 AM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Joe Mauer continues to show why he is one of the best young players in the game.

The All-Star catcher homered with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings and Jason Bartlett delivered the game-winning single in the 10th as the Minnesota Twins edged the lowly Kansas City Royals, 2-1.

Behind Mauer and Bartlett, the Twins (95-64) tied the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central Division.

"Who would've thought it?" Mauer said. "The way they started and the way we started, to say we're all tied up with three to go is pretty good. We've been battling and to finally catch those guys, it seems like we couldn't do it, but here we are and we did it."

Brad Radke pitched five strong innings in his return for Minnesota, which was 12 games behind Detroit on July 15 for the divisional lead. Although the two clubs are tied, Detroit will win the title based on winning the season series if the two clubs tie for first place.

The Twins were on the verge of their second straight loss to the Royals, when the lefthanded-hitting Mauer lined a 1-1 pitch from Joe Nelson two rows beyond the left field fence with two outs in the ninth for his 13th homer.

"I was just trying to get on," Mauer said. "I knew he wasn't going to give me much on the inner part of the plate, so I tried to split it in half and look for something on the outer part of the plate and I got a fastball there. I just tried to put a good swing on it."

"I was just yelling, 'get out of here,'" manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Please get out of here. That's hometown Joe. That was a big one."

In the next frame, AL MVP candidate Justin Morneau led off with single to center field. After Torii Hunter flied out, Rondell White hit a ball up the middle that hit the leg of pitcher Scott Dohmann (1-3). Trying to make a sliding stop, shortstop Angel Sanchez deflected the ball into short right field, allowing Morneau to advance to third.

After Jason Tyner was walked intentionally, Bartlett drove a deep fly ball over David DeJesus' head in center field to score Morneau and improve the major leagues' best home record to 53-25.

Joe Nathan (7-0), who struck out Esteban German with runners on first and second and two outs in the 10th, got the win.

Battling a torn labrum and stress fracture in his right shoulder, Radke made his first start in more than a month and pitched well, yielding just an unearned run and three hits.

"The real test was going out between innings and warming up," Radke said. "Everything is fine. I don't know what to say about it. It's unbelievable.

"I know I'll feel like crap tomorrow and probably the next day, but I'll take it."

With Minnesota's pitching rotation in constant flux due to injuries and inconsistencies, Radke needed a good outing to show he was ready for the first round of the playoffs. Radke's assessment: "Game Three looks pretty good for me."

"I'm pretty excited (about)our rotation for the playoffs," Gardenhire said. "We're trying to figure it out as we go here. Right now, it feels pretty good. I'm pretty excited he threw the ball the way he did. Now we have to see where he's at over the next few days."

Kansas City scored in the second when Mitch Maier blooped a one-out single to center field that Torii Hunter booted, allowing the rookie to advance to second on his first major league hit. One out later, Paul Phillips doubled on a ball that hit the left field line, plating Maier for a 1-0 lead.

Mauer's homer spoiled an outstanding outing by Luke Hudson (8-6), who allowed just four hits - all singles - over seven spectacular frames. He did not walk a batter, struck out one and threw 62 of 91 pitches for strikes. No Minnesota runner reached second base.

"Luke's been good all season," acting manager Billy Doran said. "This is the fifth or sixth time he's left the game with a lead and has a no-decision to show for it. He pitched well, certainly deserved much better."

The Royals squandered a chance to break open the game in the ninth, loading the bases with none out against Juan Rincon before the righthander escaped.

"You'll only hold them down so long," Doran said. "They have ways of manufacturing runs, let alone with one big swing of the bat. You get the bases loaded with nobody out, you've got to push one across." Kansas City reached the 100-loss plateau for the third straight season and for the fourth time in five years.

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