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Mauer mayhem: Four hits, five RBI lift surging Twins

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Win or lose, single or strikeout, Joe Mauer's
demeanor rarely changes. Sure, the young catcher's smooth
left-handed swing has produced plenty of success, but the Minnesota
Twins are just as happy with his level head.

Mauer went 4-for-5 with a career-best five RBI to lead
Minnesota past the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-2 on Monday night, the
Twins' fifth straight win and 15th in their last 17 games.

Carlos Silva (4-8) survived a shaky start and lasted eight
innings, maintaining Minnesota's momentum on the mound and beating
rookie Chad Billingsley (0-1). But Mauer, who leads the majors with
a .377 average, was the story after tying his career high with four
hits -- two singles, a double and a triple.

"Hey, at least I got him out once," Billingsley said.

The only negative for the surging Twins (40-35), was another
failure to gain ground on division-leading Detroit. They were 11½
games back in the AL Central standings on June 7, and after going
15-2 since then they are still 11 games behind the Tigers. They cut
their deficit in the wild-card race to nine games because the
Chicago White Sox were idle.

"Hopefully we continue this thing, and maybe eventually some of
the other teams will lose and we'll start catching up," Twins
manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Nomar Garciaparra, who leads the NL in batting with a .364 mark,
went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Los Angeles, which had a four-game
winning streak end. When Mauer rounded first base following his
third hit, in the sixth inning, Garciaparra nodded his approval to
the 23-year-old.

"He just said, 'Keep swinging it," Mauer said. "He's having
a heck of a year himself."

That's the typical soft-spoken response from the native of
nearby St. Paul who is a huge fan favorite, especially among the
females, and even appears in a local TV commercial spoofing his
thick sideburns.

"I think the point is being made across the United States that
Joe Mauer belongs in the All-Star game, and hopefully he'll
continue and we'll get him in the right place," Gardenhire said.

Silva was beaming about his battery mate, too.

"He goes 0-for-4, he's got the same face. Five-for-5? Same
face," Silva said. "That's why he's such a good player. He's been
doing a great job."

Billingsley, the team's first-round draft pick in 2003 and
arguably the organization's top pitching prospect, rose quickly
through the minors and was promoted from Triple-A less than two
weeks ago.

He walked seven and hit one batter in 5 2-3 innings, yielding
seven hits and six runs while striking out two and throwing only 55
strikes among 103 pitches.

"It wasn't one particular pitch he wasn't getting over. It was
everything," Dodgers manager Grady Little said. "He'll learn that
he needs to get it across to go deep in games."

Mauer, who had an RBI single in the opening inning, came up with
one run in on Nick Punto's single and runners at first and second.
Mauer sliced a line drive to left that tailed away from rookie
Andre Ethier, playing his first game under the Metrodome's tricky,
graying roof. The ball clipped his glove and trickled into the
corner, driving in two runs to make it 4-0. It was ruled a triple.

"Sometimes pitchers give hitters too much credit, instead of
trusting your stuff and going right after them and doing what got
you here," Billingsley said.

Mauer and Cuddyer greeted reliever Hong-Chih Kuo with two-out
RBI singles in the sixth to give the Twins a 6-2 lead. Against
Danys Baez in the eighth, Mauer drove in a run with a double in the
eighth, and Cuddyer scored him with a single.

The Dodgers hit several balls hard in the early innings, but
Silva settled down and found his rhythm. Rafael Furcal singled and
stole second in the third, scoring on Garciaparra's single to cut
the Minnesota lead to 4-2, but nobody made it past first base after
that. Silva only surrendered three more singles, finishing with six
hits and two runs, striking out three without a walk.

After an awful start, Silva and the rest of the Twins' staff
have turned it around -- an obvious reason for the team's recent
streak.

"I think we have a very, very amazing starting rotation,"
Silva said. "When you want to get better, you take anything from
anybody. On this team, there is a lot of good pitchers and you can
learn a lot from everybody."

Game notes
Left-hander Odalis Perez will start Wednesday for Brett
Tomko (strained left oblique muscle), Little said. No decision
about placing Tomko on the disabled list has been made. ... These
teams met in the 1965 World Series, won in seven games by Los
Angeles. This was the Dodgers' first visit to Minnesota since then,
and two members of that team -- Lou Johnson and Willie Davis -- threw
out ceremonial first pitches. Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew, two
of the Twins' stars, also participated. ... The Twins are 11-2 in
interleague games this year.