Center fielder preserves win over A's

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Eddie Guardado and the Minnesota Twins saw Ramon Hernandez's ninth-inning liner sinking toward the turf and a much-needed win over the Oakland Athletics slipping away.

Torii Hunter just saw another chance to make the highlight reels.

Hunter took a tying hit away from Hernandez with a game-ending grab in center field to preserve the Twins' 3-2 victory over Barry Zito and the A's on Friday night.

"Nobody else in this league would make that catch," said Guardado, who allowed an RBI double to Eric Chavez in the ninth before holding on for his 21st save.

Though Hunter went 0-for-2 with two walks, his catch -- and the Twins' second straight victory -- made for a happy 28th birthday.

With his cap next to him on the carpet, Hunter popped to his feet and pumped his fist as the crowd of 21,852 celebrated just the eighth win by Minnesota in 30 games.

"Painfully, it ranks No. 1," Hunter said of his latest Gold Glove-caliber catch. "I said, 'Forget it, let me get it.' My buttons and my jersey are melting. I've got to get a new one."

Quipped manager Ron Gardenhire: "All he told me was, 'How do you burn your lip on the Astroturf?' That was worth a hug."

Chris Gomez hit a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning, and Johan Santana took a shutout into the eighth for the Twins, who beat the A's for the sixth time in seven games this year.

"It's a shame," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "It was a great effort by Zito."

And by Santana, too, who allowed one run, four hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out seven in his fifth start of the season -- his second since replacing Joe Mays in the rotation.

LaTroy Hawkins (6-2) pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief for the win after blowing his fifth save in five chances in the eighth.

Santana walked Chavez leading off the inning and gave up a one-out single to Terrence Long before yielding to Hawkins and leaving to a standing ovation.

Oakland's Billy McMillon, pinch-hitting for slumping Eric Byrnes, tied it with a two-out single in the eighth off Hawkins to take a victory away from Santana -- who watched Hunter's catch in the clubhouse.

"That was a great feeling," Santana said. "We won. That's all we care about."

The Twins scored twice in the eighth against Zito. With the score tied at 1-all, Jacque Jones led off the eighth with an infield single and moved up on Dustan Mohr's sacrifice before pinch-hitter Shannon Stewart was walked.

Gomez then hit a single to right to drive in Jones. Minnesota loaded the bases on Cristian Guzman's walk, and Doug Mientkiewicz drove in a run on a groundout to Zito to give the Twins a 3-1 lead.

Zito (8-7) retired 14 straight from the third through the seventh and allowed only six balls out of the infield. After throwing eight shutout innings against Baltimore on Sunday, he gave up three hits, three runs -- two earned -- and four walks in
eight innings and struck out nine.

Santana, though, was just a bit better.

"When you run into a guy like that, you try to keep your team in it," Zito said. "And I did, but they got a spark in their last at-bat and beat us."

In the third, Mohr reached on an error by first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who couldn't handle a low throw by third baseman Chavez. Mohr moved up on a groundout by Rivas, took third on a wild pitch and scored on Gomez's single to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.

Santana might be Minnesota's best pitcher, but he was kept in the bullpen because the depth appeared to be in the rotation. After three spot starts during the first half as a fill-in for injured Rick Reed, Santana finally got his chance to join the rotation formally when Mays got roughed up on July 5.

"He pretty much shut us down all night," Macha said.

Game notes
Byrnes is 4-for-52 this month. ... Minnesota is 33-9 when it scores first. ... Gomez finished 2-for-4 after just one hit in eight previous at-bats against Zito. ... Guardado recorded his first save since June 28. ... The Twins won back-to-back games for the first time since June 28-29. ... Oakland led the majors with a 32-14 record in one-run games last year, but the A's are just 16-16 in those this season.