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Twins overcome Thomas, A's, gain AL Central ground

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Carlos Silva's trusty sinker is working
again, and September was a great time to find it.

Silva threw seven smooth innings, Michael Cuddyer homered and
drove in four runs and the Minnesota Twins beat the Oakland
Athletics 9-4 Monday night to move within 1½ games of idle Detroit
in the AL Central.

"I want to win with the team. I want to celebrate with the
team. That's all I'm looking for," said Silva, whose only blemish
was a fourth-inning home run by Frank Thomas.

Thomas homered for the sixth straight game, two shy of the major
league record, and has 36 this year.

Torii Hunter also went deep and Nick Punto added a two-run
single for the Twins, who trailed the Tigers by 12 games at the
All-Star break and had not been this close to first place since
before play on April 18.

Silva (9-13), who held Tampa Bay to one hit over six shutout
innings last week before pulling himself from a game that
Minnesota's major league-leading bullpen blew because of an upset
stomach, lowered his ERA to 6.08. He has struggled all season, but
his last two starts have been the best of the year.

He gave up five hits, one run and one walk while striking out
one, impressing his team by finishing a scoreless seventh after the
first two batters reached base.

"You it see on his face today. It's a sigh of relief," Cuddyer
said. "It's tension-free. He's not down on himself."

First-place Oakland stayed 5½ games ahead of Los Angeles in the
AL West. The Chicago White Sox won 3-2 at the Angels and remained
1½ games behind the Twins in the wild-card standings.

Joe Blanton (15-11) was the fourth straight starter to have
trouble, after Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza and Dan Haren each gave
up four runs or more in outings that lasted six innings or less
over the weekend.

Blanton surrendered nine hits, six runs (five earned) and three
walks in 5 1-3 innings. After Cuddyer's two-run homer in the
fourth, Justin Morneau singled and scored on an error by Eric
Chavez. The five-time Gold Glove third baseman bobbled Jason
Bartlett's chopper with his bare hand and couldn't throw him out.

Hunter homered leading off the sixth and Punto, after Brad
Halsey had replaced Blanton, drove in Jason Tyner and Bartlett with
his two-out hit that made it 6-1.

"I feel like I was struggling with my command all night,"
Blanton said. "It was one of those games I felt I had to fight
through every hitter."

Joe Nathan got last four outs for his 31st save, retiring Marco
Scutaro on a first-pitch popup with the bases loaded to end the
eighth with the tying run at first.

Chavez hit a sacrifice fly earlier in the inning off Jesse
Crain, a run charged to Dennys Reyes that ended his scoreless
innings streak at 21 1-3. Crain later walked Dan Johnson, forcing
in a run and cutting the lead to 6-3.

In the ninth, Nathan walked the bases loaded and gave up a
sacrifice fly to Milton Bradley before settling down and finishing
the game.

"This club's amazing," A's manager Ken Macha said. "We made
Nathan earn that save."

Thomas, who has 98 RBI, talked with Minnesota over the
offseason but wasn't offered a contract because of concerns about
the health of his ankle on the Metrodome's artificial turf.

An unexpected season by Cuddyer, the new cleanup hitter who was
still fighting for a starting job in spring training, has helped
make up for at least some of that lost power. He has a career-best
22 homers and 98 RBI. Cuddyer hit a two-run double off Jay
Witasick in the eighth to make it 8-3, and Hunter followed with an
RBI groundout.

Game notes
Oakland's Rich Harden threw a simulated game in the
afternoon without pain, and the right-hander -- who has pitched only
six times this season first because of a back injury and then due
to elbow problems -- will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. ...
Because Rondell White has hit better when he plays in the field,
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire used him in left and made Tyner
the DH. Tyner has not homered in 1,012 career at-bats. Thomas, by
comparison, has 484 homers. ... After going a career-best seven
starts without allowing a home run, Blanton has been taken deep
five times in his last three outings. ... With six homers in six
games, Thomas set an Oakland record that he previously shared with
George Alusik, Dave Kingman and Matt Stairs.