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Twins 5, Tigers 4

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)

The Minnesota Twins are starting strong - and not only in the standings.

Denard Span has kept up his patience at the top of the lineup, Orlando Hudson has been a tough out behind him and the Twins are often striking first. So far, it's been a winning formula.

Span was the catalyst with three singles and a walk, and the Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 5-4 on Wednesday for their first sweep in nine series this season.

Span has 20 walks, and the addition of Hudson has clearly bolstered this robust batting order.

``If I come up and get an out or whatever, I know that he's going to come up behind me and have a good at-bat or find a way to get on,'' Span said. ``It starts with us two setting the tone.''

Span scored on Justin Morneau's double in the first inning against sputtering Tigers starter Rick Porcello. After taking a 2-0 lead, the Twins (19-9) became the first major league team to score at least two runs in the first inning of six straight games since the 1971 New York Yankees did so seven consecutive times. The Twins have outscored their opponents 28-13 in the first inning this year.

``Our pitchers know they don't have to be perfect,'' said Morneau, who is leading the league with a .483 on-base percentage.

``It really takes the pressure off of us,'' said starter Kevin Slowey. ``It's incredibly encouraging.''

Slowey (4-2) surrendered seven hits and three home runs in 5 2-3 innings, but they were all solo shots - two by Miguel Cabrera - and struggling right-hander Jesse Crain gave the Twins a solid relief appearance by getting four outs in a row.

Alex Avila homered twice for the Tigers, too, starting the ninth against Jon Rauch with a drive down the right-field line. But Rauch retired the next three batters for his eighth save in nine tries.

The Twins have lost only one series, in Detroit last week, but they led the Tigers by only a half-game in the AL Central when this three-game set began.

``When a team's chasing you like that, it's good to put distance between you and them no matter how early it is,'' Morneau said.

Avila also hit a no-doubter to the upper deck in right field in the third off Slowey. Cabrera hit a line drive to left field that hooked sharply on a blustery afternoon and zipped into the seats in the fourth. He followed with a more muscular homer in the sixth that bounced off the scoreboard strip above the lower section in right-center, his seventh of the season. Cabrera leads the majors with 30 RBIs.

Still, the Tigers trailed the entire game.

Porcello (2-3) tied his career high with four walks, allowing five hits and five runs in 5 1-3 innings. After a promising rookie year, the right-hander has completed six innings only once in six starts and given up five or more runs in four straight appearances.

``It was better. I think it's still not where I need to be,'' said Porcello, whose ERA was lowered to 7.50. ``It's really a matter of a couple of pitches: making quality pitches in tough situations.''

And again, one of baseball's sloppiest defensive teams failed to provide support.

With two outs in the fourth and the Twins leading 3-2, light-hitting Alex Casilla walked. Nick Punto went all the way to third when his fly ball to the warning track was dropped in the swirling wind by right fielder Brennan Boesch, allowing Casilla to easily score.

Then Span was credited with a single when shortstop Ramon Santiago made an awkward, not-so-fundamentally-sound stab at a sharp grounder that rolled under his glove and let another run in. Even the relay throw from left field was off target, and Span took second.

``We've got some basic fundamentals that we need to work on, and we will work on,'' manager Jim Leyland said, adding about Boesch's dropped ball: ``The game is played by human beings. It's not played by mechanical men. That's all part of the game.''

Boesch's error was the 25th in 29 games for Detroit, most in the league.

``Bottom line, I've got to make that play,'' Boesch said. ``Outfielders always deal with the wind.''

NOTES: The crowd observed a moment of silence before the game in honor of former Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who died Tuesday night. Detroit's uniforms had a black, circular ``EH'' patch on the sleeves. ... Twins LH reliever Jose Mijares, on the DL with an elbow injury, will start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester, throw one inning on Friday and on Sunday and be re-evaluated after that. ... Tigers C Gerald Laird, who left Tuesday's game with a bruised shin after hitting himself with a foul ball, said he was feeling better and told Leyland he was able to play. ``Hardest ball I've hit all year,'' Laird joked.

Tagged: Tigers, Twins, Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Kevin Slowey, Denard Span, Rick Porcello

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