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Blanton outduels Santana, two-hits Twins in seven innings

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Two rookies kept the Oakland Athletics
steamrolling toward first place.

Dan Johnson's heads up baserunning made sure his homecoming was
a happy one and Joe Blanton allowed two hits over seven innings in
a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.

Blanton (6-9) struck out four and walked two to get the first
road victory of his career and Johnson scored the go-ahead run in
the seventh to extend Oakland's winning streak to five games.

"This is one of my top moments in baseball," said Johnson, a
native of Coon Rapids, Minn., who had over 150 family and friends
on hand for his first major league game in the Metrodome. "It was
above the College World Series. Coming home like this and knowing
that all my family and friends were here to see me play for the
first time in the big leagues, it was just a good feeling."

A feeling made better by Johnson's heady aggressiveness in the
seventh inning. After driving a ball to right-center field, Johnson
saw center fielder Lew Ford had to play it on his glove side.
Ford's soft toss on the run allowed Johnson to race into second,
and he scored two batters later on a single by Scott Hatteberg to
give the A's the 2-1 lead.

"He doesn't have much speed but it was the right decision,"
Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "That's the time to take a
chance."

Johnson's chance and Blanton's performance were more than enough
to deal the Twins their fifth straight loss.

Entering the game, Blanton was 0-6 with a 5.18 ERA in nine road
starts, but he feasted on a Twins lineup that has been simply
offensive since the All-Star break.

The Twins began the day having scored just 63 runs since the
All-Star break, the second-fewest in the AL.

They were no better on Monday as they wasted a strong start by
Johan Santana (10-6). Santana gave up two runs and five hits and
struck out seven in seven innings.

It's become a recurring theme for the fading Twins.

"Another great pitched game by Johan," manager Ron Gardenhire
said. "Another loss for a good pitching performance."

Blanton needed 80 pitches to get through seven innings while
making just one mistake to Justin Morneau in the second.

Morneau's towering 407-foot homer into the upper deck in right
field in the second tied the game 1-1.

But Blanton bounced back, allowing one hit over the next five
innings and retiring the last eight hitters he faced. Huston
Street, another rookie, pitched the ninth for his 10th save.

"(Blanton's) record doesn't indicate that he's Cy Young, but we
made him look like that," Gardenhire said.

The game was a meeting of teams headed in completely different
directions. The A's have been close to unbeatable since a slow
start, winning a remarkable 32 times in the last 39 games.

After a 6-2 loss to Cleveland on May 29, the A's trailed the Los
Angeles Angels by 12½ games in the AL West. But they won 19 times
in June, 20 times in July and have started August 1-0 to pull
within one game of the Angels. They also hold a two-game lead over
the New York Yankees in the wildcard race.

The Twins, meanwhile, have been in a free fall. They have lost
nine of their last 11 and trail the A's by five games in the
wildcard standings.

"We'll have different people in there tomorrow," Gardenhire
said. "We're going to give everybody a chance to look bad."

Earlier Monday, the Twins learned that Gold Glove center fielder
Torii Hunter will miss at least a month and possibly the rest of
the season with a broken left ankle.

The Twins could have used their leader.

After Bobby Crosby doubled with two outs in the first, Eric
Chavez hit a high drive to deep left center. Ford gave chase, but
came up a step short. The ball bounced into the seats for an
RBI-double to give Oakland a 1-0 lead.

Had Hunter been in center field for the seventh, Johnson
admitted he might not have tried for two.

"Probably not," Johnson said. "His reputation at being able
to track things down, I don't know if that even falls if Torii is
out there." They also missed Hunter at the plate. When he went down in
Friday's loss at Boston, Hunter was leading the team with 14
homers. Gardenhire put Terry Tiffee into Hunter's cleanup spot, and
Tiffee went hitless.

Trailing by just one run in the ninth, the Twins went down with
a whimper. Shannon Stewart and Nick Punto both grounded out to the
pitcher, and No. 3 hitter Joe Mauer grounded out weakly to second.

"It's difficult, but we're making it look like it's
impossible," Santana said. "And that's not the way it should
be."

Game notes
After the game, Johnson's teammates hung a Twins jersey in
his locker and wrote 'Johnson' on a piece of masking tape across
the back to poke fun at his roots. ... The Twins haven't lost five
straight since July 9-16, 2004. ... Ford had the other hit for
Minnesota. ... The Twins released 2B Bret Boone on Monday and
recalled IF Jason Bartlett. In his first game back, Bartlett was
0-for-3 with two strikeouts.