Twins keep Angels in doldrums

Minnesota's 2-1 victory in 12 innings is the sixth loss in eight games for the first-place Angels, who waste a solid eight-inning effort by Lackey.

August 22, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Funny seeing you here.

The Angels, flush with dominant pitching and an emerging offense, were expected to contend for a division title in 2008.

The Minnesota Twins, deprived of two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana and two-time All-Star Torii Hunter, were projected to vie with division rival Kansas City for a nice future draft pick.

Yet here it is late August, and the Twins nudged their way further into the playoff picture with a 2-1 victory in 12 innings over the Angels on Thursday night at Angel Stadium.

"I always said these guys are going to compete," said Hunter, who nearly made a terrific leaping catch at the wall in right-center field on a ball hit by former teammate Nick Punto leading off the 12th inning.

Instead, the ball ricocheted off Hunter's glove toward center field and Punto pulled into third base with a triple. Reliever Justin Speier momentarily recovered to strike out Carlos Gomez before Denard Span grounded a run-scoring single past third baseman Chone Figgins.

"I've got to catch that," Hunter said. "If it hits your glove, you have to catch it."

Twins closer Joe Nathan pitched a perfect 12th, recording a pair of strikeouts, for his 35th save.

And just like that, Minnesota pulled into a tie alongside idle Boston in the American League wild-card race. The Twins trail the Chicago White Sox by half a game in the AL Central.

The Angels still hold a comfortable 15-game advantage over Texas in the AL West even though they suffered their sixth loss in eight games.

"I think we're going through a little bit of a lull, but we'll be OK," said Speier, who fell to 1-7. "I'd rather we go through it now than later in the season."

Angels batters managed only one hit over the game's final eight innings, failing to support a strong start from John Lackey. The right-hander gave up only one run in eight innings and escaped a second-and-third, no-out jam in the eighth inning that he created with his second throwing error of the game.

"We just didn't do anything in the batter's box," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We had one hit after the fourth inning, and that's not going to get it done."

Lackey made his first error in the fifth on an errant pickoff throw -- "a nice two-seamer," Lackey joked -- into center field that proved inconsequential when he retired Alexi Casilla on a groundout to strand runners on second and third. The Twins had scored earlier in the inning on Punto's double off first baseman Mark Teixeira's glove and Gomez's RBI single to left.

Minnesota starter Scott Baker matched Lackey's performance, yielding only one run in eight innings on Teixeira's first-inning homer to left-center.

Hunter said before the game he was not surprised by the Twins' success, citing the presence of former AL most valuable player Justin Morneau and former league batting champion Joe Mauer.

"They might be young," Hunter said, "but you give them time and they'll be fine."

After complimenting Angels owner Arte Moreno for his willingness to acquire Teixeira before the non-waiver trade deadline, Hunter couldn't resist a verbal jab at his former team's inability to bolster itself.

"Sometimes you have that little piece that you might need in July or August," Hunter said. "I just knew they weren't going to get it."

Nevertheless, Hunter reaffirmed his affinity for the Twins and said he hoped to see them in the playoffs.

"I want those guys to make it and get there," Hunter said. "[But] I'm in there and I need that ring so I don't want those guys to win."

Hunter blamed himself for nudging the Twins one step closer to the postseason by failing to rob Punto of his game-changing hit.

"I had a bead on it, I just didn't get to it," Hunter said. "It's my bad. I lost that game."


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