The Minnesota Twins call Kirby Puckett "Mr. September," but actually, the slugging center fielder began taking charge of their attack in the last two games in August.
Before Puckett's surge, the Twins trailed Oakland by one-half game in the American League West. They are 14-7 in their last 21 games and lead Oakland by four games.
Puckett is 36 for 84 in the 21 games (.429), and 10 of the hits have been home runs. He has driven in 21 runs during the spurt and is the No. 3 hitter in the league (.332). Puckett was 10 for 11, including four home runs, in the last two August games.
Puckett, not much of a home run hitter until last season, hit a two-run home run in the first inning Tuesday night at Minneapolis and the Twins went on to gain a 6-4 victory over the Texas Rangers.
Tom Brunansky and Greg Gagne also hit home runs to enable Joe Niekro (7-12) to win for the first time in six weeks. The knuckleball specialist gave up six hits and four runs, only two earned, in 5 innings to win for the first time since Aug. 7.
It was Puckett's 27th home run. Until last season, the 26-year-old speedster had only four home runs in more than 1,200 at-bats. But he slugged 31 last season and is closing in on that mark again.
"I'm starting to feel good now," Puckett said. "I'm feeling like I did in Milwaukee Aug. 30 (6 for 6, including 2 homers). I feel I can hit the ball hard anywhere."
One of Puckett's biggest fans is Don Baylor. Baylor, acquired about the time Puckett got hot, has been an inspirational leader in many stretch drives. He is excited about Puckett.
"September," Baylor told the Associated Press, "is when guys who aren't afraid to do it step forward and do it. You don't do it with your mouth, you do it with your bat.
"Kirby has that quiet confidence. If he keeps hitting, we can clinch before we go back on the road."
The Twins, who are only 28-47 on the road, improved their home record to 53-23, best in the majors.
The Twins play two more games with the Rangers in the Metrodome and three with Kansas City before playing the last six on the road.
Oakland 10, Cleveland 2--The last time Rick Honeycutt won a game, the Dodgers were still in the pennant race. The left-hander ended his 13-game losing streak at Cleveland and the Athletics remained four games behind the Twins in the West.
Honeycutt, who last won on May 12 to put the Dodgers just 2 1/2 games out of first, held the Indians to four hits in five innings.
Jose Canseco hit his 30th home run for the Athletics and Mark McGwire had three hits, driving in two runs, giving him 113 runs-batted in.
Toronto 8, Baltimore 4--For the second night in a row, George Bell, who leads the majors in runs batted in, came through with the clutch hit at Baltimore.
It was a bloop single to right in the eighth that scored Lloyd Moseby to break a 4-4 tie and give Bell 130 RBIs. Ernie Whitt added a two-run double in the five-run inning that kept the Blue Jays on top in the tight race in the East.
Rookie David Wells struck out six in 3 innings to gain his fourth victory.
The Orioles' Eddie Murray hit his 30th home run.
Detroit 8, Boston 5--Kirk Gibson had four hits and scored three runs at Boston and Darrell Evans drove in three runs as the Tigers stayed within one-half game of the Blue Jays.
Perennial batting champion Wade Boggs had two hits, including his 24th home run, to reach 200 hits for the fifth consecutive season. He joins four others who have accomplished the feat.
Boggs, leading the league with a .364 average, became the first player since Lou Gehrig did it in 1936 and 1937, to get 200 hits and 100 walks in consecutive seasons.
Walt Terrell (16-10) didn't pitch too well, giving up five runs and 10 hits in seven innings, but he won his seventh in a row. It was his third win in a row on the road where his record is now 4-8.
Dickie Noles, obtained from the Chicago Cubs Monday, got the final out to get his first save for the Tigers.
Milwaukee 7-8, New York 2-10--A couple of weeks ago both the Yankees and Brewers thought they had a chance to win the East. Now, they are battling for third place.
The doubleheader split at Milwaukee left them tied for third. After Ted Higuera (18-9) won his seventh in a row as Robin Yount drove in four runs, the Yankees belted out a season-high 20 hits in the nightcap.
Roberto Kelly's single scored the go-ahead run in the second game in a two-run eighth inning. The Yankees rallied from an 8-5 deficit to tie it in the seventh.