Chicago ace strikes out six

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Esteban Loaiza must be having a hard time avoiding thoughts of the All-Star Game. After all, it's in his home park and he's tied for the major league lead in wins.

Loaiza pitched eight impressive innings to match a career high with his 11th victory as the Chicago White Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1 Tuesday night.

Loaiza (11-2) allowed only an unearned run and six hits, striking out six and walking one. He joined Toronto's Roy Halladay and Colorado's Shawn Chacon as the only pitchers in the majors with 11 wins.

"He's just having a great year and showing that he can pitch his pitches when he has to," Chicago manager Jerry Manuel said. "We haven't said anything about the All-Star game, but if they have some other people they're considering to start, I don't see
anybody better than Esteban Loaiza."

Loaiza lowered his ERA to 1.99, best in the majors, as the White Sox crept within 4½ games of Minnesota and Kansas City, who are tied for first place in the AL Central.

"Everybody talked about Bartolo Colon and Billy Koch as the guys who were going to revitalize that team, but Esteban Loaiza has taken a lot of pressure off those guys," said Minnesota's Denny Hocking, who had two of the Twins' six hits.

The White Sox won for only the sixth time in 23 games at the Metrodome in the last 2½ seasons. In May, the Twins outscored Chicago 24-6 in a three-game sweep.

"This one was big, but tomorrow is bigger because we can win the series," White Sox shortstop Jose Valentin said. "That's what we came here to do. We know it is possible. We came here to at least get two of three."

Damaso Marte got two outs in the ninth, and Koch retired Torii Hunter for his 11th save in 13 chances.

Only one Minnesota baserunner advanced past first in the first seven innings against Loaiza. Hocking hit a one-out double in the sixth -- neatly avoiding Valentin's tag at second base -- but was stranded when Jacque Jones and Cristian Guzman grounded out.

Trailing 2-0, the Twins finally scored in the eighth but needed help from Chicago's suspect defense. Bobby Kielty led off with a single and, one out later, Hocking drew a five-pitch walk from Loaiza.

Jones hit the next pitch on the ground to second baseman D'Angelo Jimenez, a potential inning-ending double play. However, Valentin's relay was wild, allowing Kielty to score and Jones to reach second.

With the tying run in scoring position, Loaiza again squelched the threat by getting Guzman to ground out to Jimenez, again on the first pitch.

"They're being aggressive. They want to get runners on and runners in like we do," Loaiza said. "I wanted to push it a little more and not give in. They're going to hit me with my good stuff. If I throw something soft out there, it can change the whole game. But I just went out there and tried to hit my spots and see if they swung."

Rick Reed (3-8) was the hard-luck loser in more ways than one. Not only did he pitch well -- two runs on six hits with two walks and six strikeouts in seven innings -- but the Twins' dome-field advantage worked against them in the second inning as Chicago scored first.

Brian Daubach led off with a high fly right fielder Kielty appeared to have lined up. But the ball struck a bank of lights and dropped behind second base for a double.

Carlos Lee smacked Reed's next pitch up the middle for a single that scored Daubach with the game's first run.

"Reeder was awesome," Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "It's just a shame we couldn't score any runs for the poor guy"

Chicago doubled its lead in the sixth on a two-out RBI single by
Frank Thomas that scored Miguel Olivo, who led off with a double.

Chicago's eight hits were enough to back the pitching of their potential All-Star starter July 15 at U.S. Cellular Field.

"If I get selected to go to the All-Star Game, I'll be excited, and I'll be excited even more if I even pitch in the game," Loaiza said. "But it's not my decision. I just want to go out there and pitch my game and go after the hitters and that's it."

Game notes
Twins pitcher Kenny Rogers, who left Sunday's game at Milwaukee in the sixth inning after he was hit on the shin with a batted ball, is not expected to miss a start. "He said it's OK," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's a little stiff but he's going to be fine." ... The White Sox are in the midst of a 12-game stretch against the Cubs and Twins, arguably their two biggest rivals.