Twins: Simple plan yields big results

Scott Baker's six solid innings, four early runs and spotless bullpen work sent the Twins to victory as the second half opened.

Joe Mauer slides safely into third
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Joe Mauer slides safely into third base in the first inning of Thursday's game, avoiding the tag by Oakland's Eric Chavez.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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For Scott Baker and other developing arms in the back of the Twins rotation, it's not about living Johan Santana's life, it's about being Bob Tewksbury.

Don't worry about being Cy Young dominant. Just manage the game and get through six innings like the former Twins control artist did.

And although the crack of the bat a few times suggested Baker was flirting with danger, the righthander pitched the Twins to a 6-2 victory over Oakland on Thursday night at the Metrodome, getting their mid-summer rally off to the right start.

That's all Baker was looking for as he gave up two runs on five hits and a walk over six innings.

"My objective the rest of the season is to give our team a chance to win," said Baker (4-3). "As simple as that sounds, that's exactly what it is."

The Twins are in third place in the AL Central, seven games behind first-place Detroit. They also are 6 ½ games behind Cleveland for the wild-card lead. While the club has made little secret about the need to upgrade the offense, its playoff hopes rest equally on a rotation that includes inexperienced starters in Baker, Boof Bonser and Matt Garza.

Baker did enough to win, but 14 of the 18 outs he got were fly balls, mostly because of pitches that were up in the strike zone. Some of those fly outs were hit hard but, fortunately for Baker and the Twins, within range of fielders.

"I think the last couple of innings he threw some more balls down toward the dirt," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But for the most part, early, we were going, 'Oh geez.' He was throwing the ball up and up and up."

Baker held Oakland to a Nick Swisher double the first time through the A's batting order. By then, the Twins led 4-0.

Jason Bartlett, who's feeling better after receiving a cortisone shot in his shoulder during the All-Star break, scored on Michael Cuddyer's single in the first inning. It was the first of four hits by Cuddyer, which tied a career high. A bases-loaded walk to Torii Hunter made it 2-0.

A's righthander Chad Gaudin (8-4), who beat the Twins in Oakland on June 3, threw 67 pitches over the first two innings Thursday as the Twins worked the count well. An RBI groundout by Luis Castillo and Bartlett's RBI single gave the Twins a 4-0 lead in the second.

Baker didn't get rattled by the hard outs and survived. On his 100th and final pitch of the night, Dan Johnson popped out to Joe Mauer in foul territory to end the sixth.

"As long as you can give this team a chance to win and make every start count," said Baker, who has a 3.77 ERA over his past five starts. "The bullpen, obviously, is phenomenal right now, and we are going to score some runs."

The bullpen entered the game third in the AL with a 3.41 ERA. Righthander Matt Guerrier lowered his ERA to 1.66 with 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Lefthander Dennys Reyes got two outs to run his streak to 9 1/3 innings since coming off the disabled list on June 14.

Closer Joe Nathan, in a non-save situation, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth.

That's the blueprint Baker and the other starters not named Johan Santana can follow if they want to pitch in for the playoff cause.

"If we get pitching like that we're going to be OK," Gardenhire said. "We'll get in an offensive flow, and we'll be fun to watch."

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    Up next: 7:10 p.m. tonight vs. Oakland • Metrodome • FSN, 1500-AM

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Joe Mauer slides safely into third