Twins 9, Indians 3
Struggling with his command and clinging to a one-run lead with the bases loaded, Brian Duensing showed why he could be a difference-maker come playoff time.
Duensing worked out of a sixth-inning jam for his 10th win, backed by homers from Danny Valencia and Michael Cuddyer, and the Minnesota Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 9-3 on Monday night.
When the second-place Chicago White Sox lost 3-0 at Oakland later, Minnesota's magic number fell to two for winning its second consecutive AL Central title and sixth in nine years. The Twins can clinch Tuesday night with another victory over Cleveland and a White Sox loss to the Athletics.
Run-scoring singles by Andy Marte and Drew Sutton trimmed the Twins' lead to 4-3 in the sixth, but Minnesota manager Rod Gardenhire let Duensing work out of the jam. He struck out Lou Marson and got Michael Brantley to line out with the bases loaded to preserve the lead.
''He was misfiring. He got some balls up, got some balls out and over the plate. He's a tough kid and he made some pitches when he had to,'' Gardenhire said. ''We just really wanted him to get out and leave us with a lead. That's important for him in that situation. He did a really good job.''
Cuddyer's two-run shot capped a four-run sixth and put the game out of reach.
Duensing (10-2) has allowed three runs or fewer in 10 of 11 starts this season. The left-hander entered the rotation midseason in both 2009 and 2010 and is 7-0 in 10 home starts.
After Valencia caught Brantley's line drive to third to end the sixth, Duensing yelled into his glove as he jogged back to the dugout.
''That was just a whole bunch of frustration coming out there,'' Duensing said. ''Tonight was definitely a grind. I felt really good, but I think I was a little bit jumpy. After I got out of the sixth, the offense was able to come out and put it away.''
Valencia has been one of the Twins' best hitters lately. His 409-foot homer in the fourth inning reached the second deck at Target Field and was the rookie's third in four games.
''You're seeing a guy develop right in front of your eyes, and he's doing it during a pennant race,'' Gardenhire said.
The Twins couldn't figure out Cleveland's young pitchers during the team's last series, but had no problems with 22-year-old Jeanmar Gomez on Monday. Gomez, who allowed eight runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings, is winless in his last six starts.
Most of the damage against Gomez (3-5) came with two outs.
''Younger guys tend to lose a little bit of focus and concentration. When you have two outs, you're three-quarters there,'' Indians manager Manny Acta said. ''You've got to zero in, make that pitch and get out of there. It's part of the learning process for a kid like him.''
Delmon Young and Denard Span had two RBIs apiece for the Twins, while J.J. Hardy had three hits and scored three times.
The extra offense was needed because the Twins played without Joe Mauer, removed from Sunday's game after tweaking his knee in the sixth inning.
Gardenhire said the All-Star catcher was still sore and might get an MRI on Tuesday.
Jason Kubel also missed his fourth game with a sore left wrist.
Marte drove an RBI triple off the center-field wall in the second inning and finished with two hits and two RBIs. But the Indians weren't able to seize the lead when they had a chance in the sixth.
''He's a tough pitcher,'' Brantley said. ''We were just trying to get quality ABs and unfortunately we weren't able to do that with the bases loaded.''
Notes: Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera left in the sixth inning with a strained left wrist. X-rays were negative and Acta said he is day to day. ... The Twins are a major league-best 44-18 since the All-Star break. ... Gardenhire said Kubel could return to the lineup Tuesday. ... RHP Kevin Slowey will likely start next Tuesday against Kansas City, then work out of the bullpen the rest of the season. The Twins are trying to set their playoff rotation while getting regular starters Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano adequate rest leading up to the postseason. ... Indians OF Shin-Soo Choo was selected AL player of the week. Choo hit .500 during the week and homered and stole a base on Sunday to reach 20-20 for the second straight season. ... Brantley's 19-game hitting streak was snapped. ... Twins 2B Orlando Hudson left in the eighth with a sore shoulder, but Gardenhire said he should be fine.