Minnesota moves closer to A's in wild-card race

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins are back in the thick of the postseason chase.

Matthew LeCroy hit his third home run in two games, leading the Twins over the Seattle Mariners 7-3 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

Justin Morneau drove in two runs, including the go-ahead run in the third, and Shannon Stewart had his second four-hit game of the season in Minnesota's seventh win in eight games.

Seattle lost for the fifth time in eight games, leaving five men on base in the first two innings.

The Twins remain in fourth place in the wild-card race but moved within 3½ games of idle Oakland after Joe Mays (6-8) won for the first time since July 3.

"We're dangerous when we can hit because we can pitch," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We had a lot of good at-bats, a lot of quality at-bats."

Ryan Franklin (6-13) lost his second straight start since his 10-day suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, allowing 11 hits and five earned runs in six innings. Last Friday, he allowed a career-high eight earned runs and 12 hits against Los Angeles.

Franklin's frustration was evident. A television camera showed an apparent argument between him and pitching coach Bryan Price in the dugout after the first inning, and the two had to be separated.

"It's just been a frustrating couple, 2½ months, if you know what I mean," Franklin said. "But I'm a man, and I've got to be able to control that frustration."

Manager Mike Hargrove downplayed the dispute, declining to give specific details and advising Franklin not to comment.

"On a scale of one to 10, it's a one, tops," Hargrove said. "It didn't really bother me. It's just two highly competitive people in a highly competitive situation, and it's all taken care of."

LeCroy gave Minnesota a 3-0 lead in the first inning when he hit a pitch from Franklin well over the center field fence for a two-run homer, one batter after Nick Punto scored on a fielder's choice.

Mays allowed three earned runs and nine hits in six innings while striking out three but was fortunate to get out of the opening two innings allowing just two runs.

In his previous six starts, Mays was 0-5 with a 7.71 ERA in 32 2/3 innings.

"When the team is playing well, you don't want to be the one to screw it up," said Mays, who missed last season after right elbow surgery and is desperately trying to stay in the team's plans.

"Here's a guy with a lot of pressure on himself trying to pitch for a contract next year, the whole package," Gardenhire said. "He's sat out for almost a year and a half of baseball and he goes out there and competes as hard as he can. It hasn't been beautiful,
but he's battling his tail off."

Despite three singles, Seattle left the bases loaded in the first when Adrian Beltre popped out and Jeremy Reed grounded out.

"[We're] just not executing like we should be. When we get guys on base, we've got to get them in," said Willie Bloomquist, who had two hits.

Yuniesky Betancourt doubled in a run and Raul Ibanez singled in another as the Mariners got three hits in the second but left two men on when Mays got Richie Sexson to bounce out for the third out.

"That was huge because he stayed away from the big inning," said Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson, noting that in a number of starts Mays has pitched three or four shutout innings then allowed a four- or five-run frame.

Beltre led off the third with a homer to tie the game at 3, but Mays retired 11 of his final 13 batters after a midgame conversation with Anderson, who told Mays to trust himself and be more aggressive.

"We started to mix a little more of the curveball in there and a little bit more of the slider. I was able to get them off the fastball and we were able to put up some zeros," Mays said.

Morneau singled home Stewart in the third. Brent Abernathy singled to score Lew Ford in the sixth to make it 5-3.

Stewart and Punto added RBI singles in the eighth.

Game notes
Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki extended his season-high hitting streak to 12 games with a single in the first. ... Minnesota's Torii Hunter, out indefinitely with a broken left ankle, is expected to travel to the Twin Cities this weekend for an exam. ... Minnesota has won five straight for the first time since April 26-30. ... Minnesota stole two bases and now has nine in four games, the highest in a four-game stretch since April 15-18, 2004.