MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Los Angeles Angels won another close game behind the usual solid starting pitching and strong work from the bullpen.
That's been a frustratingly familiar formula for defeat these days for the Minnesota Twins.Darin Erstad had two hits, two runs and an RBI, Paul Byrd
pitched seven smooth innings and the Angels handed the Twins another one-run loss, 3-2 on Friday night.Steve Finley drove in a run and stole a homer from Joe Mauer
with a leaping catch above the center field wall for the Angels, who equaled a season high with five straight road wins."They play the same kind of game we do," said Angels catcher Bengie Molina, who drove in a run with a two-out double in the fourth. "And that's why you see all the one-run games."With strong starting pitching, deep bullpens and lineups without much power, these teams are quite similar. But Los Angeles has the edge so far, having beaten Minnesota by one run five times this year. The Twins' mark in those games dropped to 17-17, compared with a 24-16 record last season while winning their third straight AL Central title."I'm getting tired of tipping my hat to pitchers, man," said Nick Punto, who had one of Minnesota's four hits. "I'm getting tired of losing these tough one-run games."Byrd (9-5) improved to 5-1 over his last eight starts despite a complete-game five-hitter by Minnesota's Brad Radke. Francisco Rodriguez pitched the ninth and recorded his 19th save in 21 tries."I'm kind of used to it," said Radke, who turned in his best performance in six weeks. "It doesn't matter if we go out there and score 10 runs or not. I've just got to go out there and do my job."Radke (6-9) retired the last 12 batters and struck out four without a walk. But the Angels got just enough key hits to stay in front.Chone Figgins singled to start the sixth and then stole his 27th base -- barely beating a strong throw by catcher Mauer. Erstad was jammed by an inside pitch, but he hit it softly to center to score the speedy Figgins.A wild pickoff throw by Radke sailed past first baseman Justin Morneau for an error and sent Erstad racing all the way to third. That allowed him to score on Finley's sacrifice fly and make it 3-1."Every run's important when you're facing a guy like Radke," Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said.The same goes for the Twins, the way their offense is struggling. New second baseman Bret Boone went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a double-play groundout and has just one hit in his last 20 at-bats since June 29."We're in a funk swinging the bats," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We're not stringing any hits together. We have to dig a little deeper and get some balls into the outfield grass."We can't keep playing like this," he said.Minnesota is second in the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position, but the Twins didn't take full advantage of those chances. A one-out double by Luis Rodriguez put runners at second and third in the third inning, but all they got was a sacrifice fly by Shannon Stewart to take a 1-0 lead.Rodriguez started the sixth with a single and scored on Stewart's double, bringing Minnesota within 3-2. But with men at first and third and one out, Morneau hit a grounder to first -- where Erstad fired home and caught Stewart in a rundown. With
runners at second and third, Torii Hunter swung at an outside pitch on a full count and ended the inning with an infield popout.Byrd had something to do with all that, too. The veteran right-hander allowed four hits and gave up two runs while walking one and striking out one. In the sixth, with the Twins threatening, Byrd wondered if he'd get to finish the inning."I was glad Scioscia stayed with me," Byrd said. "It made me feel good."That's the way his entire team felt, returning to the clubhouse after another close victory.
After the game, the Angels optioned outfielder Curtis Pride
to Triple-A Salt Lake and activated shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the disabled list. ... The Twins signed their first-round sandwich pick, first baseman Henry Sanchez from Mission Bay High School in San Diego. Taken 39th overall, Sanchez was considered one of the best power hitters in the draft. ... This was Radke's third complete game this year. ... Rodriguez has five saves against Minnesota this season. ... The eight meetings this year between these teams have been decided by a total of 12 runs.