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Twins beat up Indians, close in on wild card lead

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins took a while to get going
Wednesday night. That's the way they started the season, too.

Jason Bartlett had four hits and Luis Rodriguez added three to
lead Minnesota to a 7-2 win over the Cleveland Indians.

Luis Castillo drove in the go-ahead run on a bases-loaded
infield single in the eighth inning. Michael Cuddyer added a
three-run homer that broke the game open, and Minnesota moved
within one game of AL wild card leader Chicago.

The Twins got 17 hits but didn't take the lead for good until
the eighth.

"We just couldn't string together a bunch of hits at the same
time," Cuddyer said. "It wasn't until the eighth when we were
able to sustain a rally."

Jason Kubel singled off Cleveland reliever Fausto Carmona to
start the inning. Carmona then walked Rodriguez before being
replaced by Rafael Betancourt.

Bartlett greeted Betancourt with a bunt single to load the bases
with none out.

"The story was that bunt by Bartlett," Cleveland manager Eric
Wedge said. "That bunt was about as perfect as it could be."

Castillo pounded a chopper off the plate, resulting in an
infield hit and allowing pinch-runner Jason Tyner to score for a
3-2 Twins lead.

After Joe Mauer's sacrifice fly scored Bartlett, Cuddyer hit a
421-foot shot over the center-field wall for his 18th homer.

It was the second consecutive night that Cuddyer added a key hit
late in the game.

"Every big situation is nothing but an audition for the next
one," he said. "Tonight I was able to come through again."

Sidearm specialist Pat Neshek (2-0) earned the win in relief.
The Twins' bullpen tossed four scoreless innings, lowering its ERA
to a league-best 3.09.

Carmona (1-8) took the loss.

"Our bullpen did a super, super job for us," Minnesota manager
Ron Gardenhire said. "You can go to just about any one of them and
plan on getting the job done. They give us a lot of chances to win
games."

Cleveland threatened to take the lead in the eighth, putting
runners on first and second with two outs before Neshek came in and
struck out Ryan Garko.

The Twins struggled with runners on base, stranding 10 over the
first seven innings. Castillo stranded Rodriguez and Bartlett in
the second, fourth and sixth before driving in the go-ahead run.

Four of the seven hits by Rodriguez and Bartlett came with two
outs. The duo anchored the bottom of the lineup and continue to
play a surprise role in the Twins' resurgence. Bartlett raised his
batting average to .369 and Rodriguez filled in admirably at third
base for injured Nick Punto.

"(Bartlett and Rodriguez) carried us tonight," Cuddyer said.
"The rest of us were just the supporting cast."

Early in the season, it looked as though the Twins would be out
of contention by the All-Star break.

But since June 8, Minnesota owns the best record in the majors
at 45-16, outscoring opponents 341-228. The team also leads the
league in batting average, on-base percentage and ERA during that
stretch.

At 42-18, Minnesota enjoys the best home record in the majors
and leads the league in home batting average and ERA. The only
hiccup at home came earlier this month when Minnesota dropped five
in a row to Texas and Toronto.

The Twins wasted no time in jumping on Cleveland starter Cliff
Lee. The first three Twins reached base in the first inning.
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead on Mauer's RBI single, but Lee escaped
further damage in the inning by striking out Cuddyer and getting
Justin Morneau to ground into a double play.

Twins starter Carlos Silva retired 10 of the first 11 batters he
faced before getting into trouble in the fourth. Cleveland scored
twice on singles by Garko and Joe Inglett.

Silva lasted five innings, yielding two runs and five hits.

Lee went five innings for the 42nd straight start. The
left-hander yielded two runs and scattered eight hits.

"I didn't get as deep into the game as I would have liked," he
said.

It was the second straight loss for the Indians after winning
six in a row. They have dropped 14 of their last 22 road games.

Game notes
Cuddyer took grounders at 3B before the game. He is the
Twins' emergency 3B and could be called into action if Punto heads
to the disabled list and Rodriguez struggles. ... The Indians lead
the majors with nine complete games. ... The Twins drew 42,328
fans. It was their fifth straight crowd of 30,000 or more, the
first time that's happened since August 1993.