Michael Cuddyer's two-run homer and Brian Duensing's stellar start energized the Twins in a 3-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Friday night to move within three games of the AL Central lead.
The stress fracture in Morneau's lower back has ended his season, but the absence of the All-Star first baseman hasn't stopped this team. He was actually in a severe second-half slump. Since switching from right field to first base, Cuddyer is 9-for-20 with three homers and 10 RBIs.
And the Twins have won five straight games.
"When the season's over and we look back, we can really realize how big of a loss it is," Cuddyer said. "Right now we don't have time to really worry about that. We've just got to continue plugging away. Credit to him: He's down there being the biggest cheerleader he can be."
Duensing (4-1) left the mound to a rousing ovation after giving up two infield singles among just four hits and one walk over 6 1-3 innings, before yielding to the bullpen. Jose Mijares, Jon Rauch and Joe Nathan finished the shutout.
Showing his age, Duensing wasn't sure about protocol. Tip his cap to acknowledge the crowd, or just keep walking? That was the only sign of his rookie status, though. He pitched with the poise of a seasoned pro and is 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA in seven starts this year.
"He wasn't scared of any of those guys," Cuddyer said. "He went out there, pounded the strike zone. That was huge, and hopefully he can continue to be huge for us."
Rick Porcello (13-9) pitched well for the Tigers over six innings, but he made a couple of mistakes. Kubel, who is 7-for-8 this season against the 20-year-old right-hander, singled with one out in the fourth before Cuddyer's big hit.
This is the closest the Twins (75-72) have been to first place since Aug. 2. They're 6-1 at home this year against Detroit.
As the Tigers (78-69) have stumbled since Labor Day, failing to get their bats going and take advantage of the assorted problems bothering the Twins and Chicago White Sox, the AL Central has quietly emerged as the one division in baseball this season with an actual pennant race. These teams play twice more this weekend and four times in Detroit during the final week of the season, though, so it could be quite the finish.
"Fun baseball," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "We don't think about it. We take it one game at a time. We do well, the outcome will be where we want it to be."
The Twins believe the same.
"We're pitching well. We're getting hits when we need 'em, big hits when we need
'em, and we're not making mistakes," Cuddyer said. "That's what we've been accustomed to over the years, and that's what we're going to have to continue to do to continue to climb."
Red Sox 3, Orioles 1
Clay Buchholz pitched six innings of five-hit ball, and visiting Boston beat Baltimore for teh sixth striaght time.
Jason Bay hit his team-high 34th home run for the Red Sox, who have won eight of nine and 14 of 19 to take command in the AL wild-card race. Victor Martinez had a single and a double to stretch his hitting streak to 17 games, tying a career high. Buchholz (6-3) improved to 5-0 with a 2.80 ERA in seven starts since Aug. 13.
Jeremy Guthrie (10-15) yielded three runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings, falling to 0-3 in four starts against Boston this season.
Mariners 3, Yankees 2
At Seattle, Ichiro Suzuki hit a two-out, two-run homer off New York closer Mariano Rivera.
Pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney hit a two-out double to deep right-center field. Suzuki then jumped on the first pitch from Rivera (3-3) for his 10th homer of the season and second straight day with a game-winning hit.
It was Rivera's second blown save of the season.
Felix Hernandez (16-5) pitched a seven-hitter to pick up the win.