CHICAGO (AP) _ As they chase their sixth AL Central title in the last 10 seasons, the formula has not changed for Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins.
Mauer had three hits, including a three-run homer, and the Twins took a commanding eight-game lead in the division with a 9-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night.With 17 games left for both teams, Minnesota has basically secured the division barring an epic collapse. The Twins’ magic number to win the Central is 10.
“It’s great when you’re winning. It’s even better when different people are doing it every night,” Mauer said. “That’s what it takes to win. Tonight was my night but tomorrow could be someone else. That’s how you win ballgames.”
Twins starter Brian Duensing (9-2) pitched six innings, allowing two runs while scattering nine hits. He struck out four and walked one. The left-hander, who was promoted to the rotation in late July, is 6-1 as a starter.
The Twins have won 10 of 11 and have baseball’s best record since the All-Star break at 41-16. They improved to 6-2 in Chicago.
Duensing and some of his teammates have started to keep track of the magic number.
“Some of us know it’s there. I’m sure if you ask some guys they’ll say they’re not paying attention,” he said. “When you’re a starter and you don’t throw for four days, you start thinking about that kind of stuff. We know where we’re at right now. We just have to keep playing good baseball and get it done.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Duensing more than solidified a spot in the rotation.
“That’s great! I guess I’ll always know when I’m going to pitch,” Duensing said. “That’s a great compliment. Hopefully he sticks to it.”
Mauer is 15 for 27 with four doubles and two home runs at US Cellular Field this season and is 30 for 66 overall for a .455 average against the White Sox.
“I like hitting here. I don’t know what it is. It’s a great place to hit. It’s a great pitching staff. I just like hitting here for some reason,” Mauer said.
Carlos Quentin hit a two-run homer in the sixth for the White Sox, who dropped to 5-12 against the Twins with one game left between the teams.
“We were really looking forward to making a move in this series and we find ourselves against the wall right now with two games down,” said White Sox shortstop Omar Vizquel. “There is still some games left but as long we keep losing against the first-place team I don’t think we will be making any moves.”
White Sox starter Gavin Floyd (10-13) was tagged for six runs and nine hits. He struck out four and walked two.
With two outs in the fifth, Denard Span singled and stole second, Orlando Hudson followed with an infield single. Then on a 1-0 pitch, Mauer broke a scoreless tie with a three-run shot to right field. It was Mauer’s ninth of the season.
Minnesota added insurance runs against Floyd in the sixth. Delmon Young had a sacrifice fly and J.J. Hardy added an RBI single to chase Floyd. Span followed with an infield roller down the third-base line to score Danny Valencia.
Former White Sox slugger Jim Thome had a two-run single against reliever Sergio Santos in the seventh and Valencia had a sacrifice fly off Tony Pena to make it 9-2.
“We’re swimming against the current and it’s raining,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. “We’re not going to give up. I know it’s going to be very tough to accomplish what we want to accomplish, but in the meanwhile we don’t have any choice, just keep fighting and go out there and continue what we’re supposed to do and see what happens. You never know in this game.”
After squandering several scoring opportunities in Tuesday’s 9-3 loss, the White Sox loaded the bases with one out in the second and failed to scored. Vizquel hit a grounder to Valencia at third, who forced Paul Konerko at the plate and Gordon Beckham ended the inning by flying out to right. In the third, Duensing struck out Konerko with Juan Pierre on third to end the inning and Vizquel hit into an inning-ending double play in the fourth with runners on first and third.
“We’ve been struggling to get a hit when we really needed it with guys in scoring position and that really is hurting us.” Vizquel said. “This team you can’t really make any mistakes and you have to take advantage of the opportunities that they give you and we just didn’t.”
Alexei Ramirez tripled in the seventh off Twins reliever Matt Guerrier and scored on Alex Rios’ infield single.
Manny Ramirez was 1 for 2 with two walks and Guillen insists he will play him daily.
“Manny will play every day because Jerry Reinsdorf is paying him a lot of money,” he said before the game.
In 12 games, Ramirez is 10 for 37, all singles, and has not driven in a run.
NOTES: Guillen said RHP Freddy Garcia will likely miss his scheduled start on Saturday. Garcia missed his start on Sunday with a sore back. … Guillen is hoping to get closer Bobby Jenks (pinched nerve) for the weekend series against Detroit. … Twins RF Jason Kubel left the game after the fifth inning with soreness in his left wrist. … Twins closer Matt Capps pitched a scoreless ninth.