Twins complete sweep, tie ChiSox in wild-card race

CHICAGO-Michael Cuddyer believed his team was better and thought the problems would pass.

Wishful thinking or not, time proved him right.

Cuddyer and Justin Morneau each hit two-run homers, and the surging Minnesota Twins beat plummeting Chicago 7-4 on Wednesday to complete a three-game sweep and move into a second-place tie with the White Sox.

Minnesota and Chicago trail Detroit by 8 games in the AL Central and are a half-game behind the New York Yankees in the wild card race. The Twins, who have won 34 of 42, open a three-game series at home against Detroit on Friday.

“We knew, eventually, if we were to keep winning, we’d catch whoever was in front of us,” Cuddyer said.

Cuddyer homered in the first inning, and Morneau broke a 3-3 tie with a long shot to right in the fifth.

The White Sox had been running neck-and-neck with Detroit but have fallen back during a skid in which they’ve dropped 12 of 15.

“For the first time in my life I’m speechless,” said Ozzie Guillen, Chicago’s outspoken manager. “It’s been two tough weeks. It’s tough for me to point at any of the players. I blame everybody.”

All-Star left-hander Mark Buehrle (9-9) lost his fifth straight start, allowing 10 hits and seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. He left with two runners on in the sixth. Both scored on Nick Punto’s single off Brandon McCarthy that made it 7-3.

“I haven’t done anything for this team in the last month-and-a half,” Buehrle said. “It’s getting frustrating. Every time we score some runs, I go back and give them right back up. It’s embarrassing, and I’d better turn it around.”

Morneau put the Twins ahead with two outs in the fifth. With a runner on second, he connected for his 27th homer-a shot that sailed an estimated 437 feet and landed a few rows shy of the concourse in right.

The left-handed Morneau wasn’t sure he would be in the lineup, with a lefty on the mound, until he popped into the manager’s office before the game.

“I’m playing today, right?” he asked.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire responded, “Why, you got any other ideas?”

Morneau, Jason Bartlett and Josh Rabe had three hits each, and the Twins had 16 in all. Punto singled twice, extending his career-high hitting streak to 18 games. Minnesota scored all of its runs with two out.

Carlos Silva (6-9) allowed three runs and six hits in five innings, struck out three and walked one for the Twins. Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save in 22 chances.

The White Sox tied it at 3 with three runs in the fourth on Jermaine Dye’s two-run homer and Joe Crede’s RBI single.

But it didn’t last thanks to Buehrle’s struggles and Minnesota’s hot hitting.

Buehrle’s ERA has jumped from 3.22 to 4.81 during his slide. The Twins were 25-33 in early June but now are in the thick of playoff contention.

“Even when we were playing as bad as we were the first month-and-a-half of the season, we still didn’t give up on ourselves,” Cuddyer said. “We still played with enthusiasm. And we still knew that if we played the type of baseball we’re capable of, we could get back into things.”

Punto singled to left in the first inning and scored when Cuddyer drove a 3-2 pitch over the left-field fence with two out. It was his 14th homer and second in three games.

The Twins added a run in the third.

The White Sox intentionally walked right-handed Cuddyer-putting runners on first and third-with two out to set up a lefty vs. lefty matchup between Buehrle and Morneau. The strategy failed as Morneau lined a single to left to drive in Luis Castillo, who led off with a triple, making it 3-0.

Chicago’s Rob Mackowiak led off the seventh with a homer off Pat Neshek to make it 7-4.

“We’re judging ourselves off of what’s happened the last two weeks. If you do that, you might want to jump off a building,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said.

The Associated Press