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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As Ron Gardenhire walked to the mound with one out in the eighth inning, the sellout crowd wondered if Scott Baker was done with the tying run on second base and his pitch count at 111.
Baker had a feeling that he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I think you can tell by his posture and by his mannerisms,” Baker said. “I kind of knew he was going to talk to me and see how I was feeling in that situation. At the time it felt great.”
Baker wiggled out of the jam and struck out 10 over eight dominant innings to lift the surging Minnesota Twins to a 1-0 win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
Baker (5-4) allowed four hits and walked one and Danny Valencia homered as the Twins won for the sixth time in a row and 13th time in 15 games. Matt Capps pitched the ninth for his 11th save.
When Gardenhire came out to visit Baker on the mound, two arms were ready in the bullpen. But the two had a brief conversation and Baker stayed in the game.
Baker said that when Gardenhire is coming to remove a pitcher from the game, “It doesn’t take him as long to get out there. But I think you can tell he just wants to give you a breather and make sure we know what we’re doing with the situation.”
Baker got Chris Denorfia to ground out to third base, then got Jason Bartlett to hit a grounder to shortstop to end the inning to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 40,225 fans, who have been reinvigorated by the home team’s recent run.
“It makes you feel good that he gave me the chance to make some pitches,” Baker said.
Tim Stauffer (2-5) was nearly as good, allowing one run on six hits with five strikeouts in seven innings. But the punchless Padres offense was no match for Baker, and San Diego lost its fourth straight and eighth in 10 games.
Luke Hughes added two hits for Minnesota.
Denorfia led off the game with a triple, but the offensively challenged Padres failed to take advantage. Baker struck out Bartlett and Chase Headley and centerfielder Ben Revere chased down a drive from Ryan Ludwick at the wall to end the inning.
Baker continued the run of sterling starting pitching that has fueled Minnesota’s revival. He struck out eight in the first four innings and fanned at least 10 in a game for the third time in his career.
“He’s one of those guys you don’t hear about a whole lot just because you’re in the other league,” Padres catcher Nick Hundley said. “If he was in the National League, you’d definitely hear about him. He has really good stuff.”
Beset by injuries and plagued by an ineffective bullpen and sloppy defense, the Twins were an MLB-worst 17-37 and 16 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland on June 1. They’ve looked like an entirely different team in the days since, returning to the pitching-strong, fundamentally sound play they’ve been known for over the last decade.
The Twins entered the game eight behind the Indians and Tigers in the division, showing their fans that the summer isn’t over yet.
Joe Mauer went 0 for 3 with a walk in his second game back in the lineup after a long stint on the disabled list with leg and shoulder injuries.
Stauffer carried a 15-inning scoreless streak into the start, tied for the second-longest active streak in the majors. It ended at 16 when Valencia hit his solo homer to left field, his second long ball in as many nights.
But Stauffer recovered nicely, keeping the Twins off the scoreboard and the Padres in the game over his final five innings.
As usual, pitching hasn’t been the problem in San Diego, where the pitching staff entered the game leading the majors with a 2.92 ERA over the last 28 games. But the Padres were just 12-16 during that span thanks to an offense that was hitting an MLB-low .223 and scored a league-worst 76 runs.
Will Venable and Denorfia each had two hits while the rest of the Padres offense went hitless.
“Our situational hitting hasn’t been where it needs to be,” Padres manager Bud Black said.
NOTES: Valencia was replaced on defense in the ninth because of a strained right biceps. He said he hopes to play on Sunday. … Capps has pitched three straight days and Gardenhire said they would wait to see how he felt on Sunday to see if he would be available. If Capps needs a day of rest, Glen Perkins will be the closer. … Hundley struck out four times on Friday night and in his first AB on Saturday for a dubious little skid. He finished the game 0 for 3.
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