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Strikeout gaffe dooms O's; Twins inch closer to playoffs

BALTIMORE (AP) -- During a game in which Torii Hunter homered and
Minnesota got 19 hits against the Baltimore Orioles, the most
significant play in an uplifting victory for the Twins was a
strikeout by Michael Cuddyer.

The swing-and-a-miss led to three runs, and Minnesota won 8-5
Saturday to inch closer to a playoff berth.

The outcome eliminated Boston from postseason contention and
enabled the Twins to reduce their magic number for clinching a
playoff spot to three. Any combination of Minnesota wins and
Chicago White Sox losses totaling three will ensure the Twins no
worse than the wild card.

Minnesota could also get in as the AL Central winners. The Twins
remained 1½ games behind first-place Detroit, which routed Kansas
City 15-4.

The game turned in the third inning, when Minnesota scored three
runs to go up 4-2. With two on and two outs, Cuddyer whiffed on a
breaking pitch in the dirt. But the ball got away from catcher
Ramon Hernandez, who then threw it over the outstretched glove of
first baseman Kevin Millar for an error.

Two runs scored on the play, and Justin Morneau hit Erik
Bedard's next pitch up the middle for a single that scored Cuddyer.

"That was the best strikeout I've ever had. It ended up that
way, at least," Cuddyer said. "It was exciting because it was two
runs, and we were able to add to that."

It was a miserable day for Hernandez, who went 0-for-5 with
three strikeouts. But the play he will remember most was the throw
that went awry.

"It slipped out of my hands and it got away," he said. "They
scored three runs. When you make plays like that, you deserve to
lose, I guess."

The Orioles came back to tie it, but Hunter put the Twins ahead
for good with his 29th homer in the fifth inning after Cuddyer
reached on a fielder's choice. Hunter, however, insisted that his
home run wasn't nearly as important as Cuddyer's K.

"There's no doubt it was the turning point in the game. It put
us up, and we were able to add to it," Hunter said. "It took some
momentum from them and put some in our direction as well."

Morneau's run-scoring single following Hernandez's error gave
him 126 RBI, tying Harmon Killebrew for the second-highest
single-season total in Twins history. Killebrew had 140 in 1961 and
126 in 1962.

Chris Gomez got a pair of hits for the Orioles to extend his
hitting streak to a career-high 15 games, but Baltimore didn't have
enough firepower to overcome a 4-for-4 performance by Rondell White
and Hernandez's error.

"We didn't execute when we had to and it cost us several
runs," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Baltimore starter Erik Bedard (15-10) allowed a career-high 12
hits and three earned runs in 4 2-3 innings, which didn't help.

"We didn't help out in the field, and that makes for a
not-so-good day," Perlozzo said.

Baltimore closed to 6-5 with an unearned run in the fifth
against Matt Guerrier (1-0), who pitched 1 1-3 innings to earn his
first win in 89 career appearances.

Nick Punto hit an RBI single in the eighth and Lew Ford singled
in a run in the ninth.

Joe Nathan, the seventh Minnesota pitcher, got three outs for
his 34th save.

"Our bullpen was huge," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
"We had lost a couple in a row, and didn't want to get into a rut.
It was a big win for us."

The Orioles went up 1-0 in the first inning when Brian Roberts
hit a leadoff single and scored on a two-out double by Miguel
Tejada.

Minnesota tied it in the second. Cuddyer walked and went to
third on a single by Hunter, who was called out at second trying
for a double -- even though replays indicated he beat the tag. White
followed with an RBI single.

In the bottom half, Jeff Fiorentino hit a sacrifice fly after a
throwing error by shortstop Jason Bartlett and a double by Millar.

Game notes
Twins 1B Phil Nevin left with a bruised left wrist. X-rays
were negative. ... Orioles strength and conditioning coach Tim
Bishop announced that he will retire after this season, his 14th
with the club. ... It was Bedard's shortest stint since June 1. ...
Baltimore turned four double plays. ... Tejada extended his hitting
streak to 11 games and moved within five hits of tying Cal Ripken's
club record for a season (211).