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Twins complete sweep of A's

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- It's fun to be a Minnesota starting pitcher,
for a change.

After toiling through last season and the first week of 2006
with frighteningly few runs, the Twins' staff found plenty of
support to start their first homestand -- and not just from the
fans.

Torii Hunter hit a two-run homer, Kyle Lohse threw six innings
for his first win and the Twins finished a three-game sweep by
beating the Oakland Athletics 8-2 on Thursday.

"When your team's doing that stuff, it makes it easy to throw
strikes," said Lohse, who gave up a two-run double to Frank Thomas
in the first but nothing after that.

Luis Castillo and Mike Redmond each had three hits, and Shannon
Stewart drove in two runs for Minnesota, which had three-run
innings in the first and fifth against Oakland starter Joe Blanton.

"It feels good to go out and pick up these guys," Hunter said,
smiling about the way the Twins have erased deficits of at least
two runs in each of their four victories.

They stumbled home after going 1-5 on a road trip last week and
batting only .225, ready to face a team fresh from a sparkling
weekend of starting pitching. But both those trends were quickly
reversed.

Oakland gave up 34 hits in this series, after yielding eight
over three games at Seattle. Dan Haren and Esteban Loaiza were each
given early leads they couldn't hold on Tuesday and Wednesday, and
the same thing happened to Joe Blanton (1-1) in this one.

"We didn't make any pitches," manager Ken Macha said. "You
get good hitters and leave it in the middle of the plate, and they
burn you."

Blanton, who pitched eight shutout innings and allowed two hits
to the Mariners last Friday, gave up four straight hits in the
fifth. Stewart, Castillo and Redmond each hit RBI singles -- with
Castillo's chopping high off the plate and giving third baseman
Eric Chavez no play.

Stewart added an RBI single in the sixth after Nick Punto's
triple. Blanton surrendered 11 hits, seven runs and two walks in
six innings while striking out four.

"Just one of those days," he said. "Three inches here or
there, and the balls are caught. But you've got to give them
credit. I thought they hit some good pitches."

Reliever Francisco Liriano struck out five in two innings. Then
Michael Cuddyer homered off A's reliever Jay Witasick in the
eighth, putting the cap on a productive series. The Twins, who
ranked last in the AL in runs last season and were third-to-last in
homers, hit six balls over the wall against Oakland.

"I think we can go pound for pound with any team," said
Hunter, who has 11 RBI.

Lohse (1-1) made up for a bad first start by giving up only five
hits, two walks and two runs while striking out two. The A's only
had the lead for a few minutes in the first inning.

Castillo singled and scored on a double by his former Florida
teammate, Redmond. After Rondell White reached on a fielder's
choice, Hunter homered on a first-pitch fastball from Blanton to
make it 3-2 in the bottom half.

Renewed when he returned to the mound, Lohse retired eight
straight and later escaped a two-on, no-out pickle in the fifth
without letting Oakland score.

It was a refreshing change from the recent past, when Lohse,
Carlos Silva, Brad Radke and Johan Santana routinely found
themselves losing close, low-scoring games and trying -- sometimes
unsuccessfully -- to hold in the frustration.

This was actually Minnesota's first quality start out of nine
this year.

"Maybe it broke the seal," Lohse said. "We've got a pretty
good pitching staff. I don't think it's going to be a problem the
rest of the year."

Not if they keep getting this kind of support.

Oakland, meanwhile, is struggling to hit. Mark Kotsay, one of
the few regulars who hasn't, got his first day off to stay away
from back problems on the Metrodome's artificial grass. Thomas, who
has six RBI despite a .138 average, did his part, but the rest of
the lineup was silent.

Dan Johnson, one of Liriano's three strikeout victims in the
seventh, is now 0-for-26 this season.

"It's disappointing," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "We've
been playing good baseball."

Game notes
Witasick rolled his left ankle at the end of the inning
after stepping off first while covering the base to retire Punto on
a grounder. Witasick, taken off the field on a cart and sent for
X-rays later, sat in front of his cubicle with significant
swelling. "I hope it's not anything more than a simple sprain,"
he said. ... The Twins' last sweep of the A's was here, a four-game
set on July 17-20, 2003.