Bullpen has been perfect of late

DETROIT (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins' bullpen might be even better
without Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins.

Five Minnesota relievers combined to shut out the Detroit Tigers
for 3 2/3 innings and preserve a 3-2 victory on Saturday night.

"Our bullpen was just super tonight," Minnesota manager Ron
Gardenhire said. "We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,
but those guys are pitching their tails off right now."

In the offseason the Twins lost their top two relievers --
Guardado and Hawkins -- to free agency. Their new closer Joe Nathan
entered the year with one career save, recorded five years ago.

But down the stretch, the new group has been stellar. Nathan
pitched the ninth for his 41st save in 44 chances Saturday, and
J.C. Romero retired the only batter he faced in the seventh inning,
extending his Twins-record scoreless streak to 36 innings. Romero
last allowed a run on June 11.

In the last 12 games, Twins relievers are 5-0 with five saves
and a 1.83 ERA.

"We aren't doing anything differently than we have all
season," Nathan said. "We've just all gotten into a groove right
now. We came into the year thinking we had to prove that we could
do the job, so this feels good."

Opponents have noticed, as well.

"When they go to the pen, you can pretty much close the door,"
Brandon Inge said. "They throw every pitch to a spot where you
can't put a good swing on it. If you do make contact, it is with
the end of the bat. You can score on them, but we aren't having
much luck with it."

The loss was costly for the Tigers in another way -- their two
All-Stars went out with right knee injuries. Shortstop Carlos
Guillen sprained his knee while sliding awkwardly into third base
in the fifth inning, and catcher Ivan Rodriguez left in the seventh
with a bruised knee after being hit by a foul tip. Guillen was
having an MRI late Saturday night, while X-rays of Rodriguez's knee
were negative.

"Carlos hurt that same knee a couple weeks ago, and we don't
know the situation right now," Tigers manager Alan Trammell said.
"Pudge just has a bruise -- he won't be in there tomorrow, but he
should play Monday."

Jacque Jones hit a go-ahead, RBI single in the seventh off AL
Levine (3-3) and Minnesota, heading to its third straight AL
Central title, won its fourth straight and ninth in 11 games.

Jesse Crain (2-0), the second Twins reliever, got an out in the
sixth and two in the seventh for the win.

"It's a pleasure to catch these guys," said Twins catcher Pat
Borders, who joined the team on Aug. 31. "They all have live arms,
and they all believe they can do the job. That confidence is the
impressive thing."

Cristian Guzman gave the Twins an early lead in the second
inning with his first homer since Aug. 8, a span of 106 at-bats.
Shannon Stewart connected for his 10th homer in the third inning to
put the Twins up 2-0.

Detroit pulled to 2-1 in the fourth. With one out, Carlos Pena
walked, took third on Inge's hit-and-run single and scored when
Jason Smith beat out a potential 3-6-3 double play.

The same trio combined to tie it in the sixth. This time, Pena
hit a leadoff double, moved to third on Inge's groundout and, after
Aaron Fultz replaced Kyle Lohse, Smith laid down a perfect suicide

"We figured Jason would get a breaking pitch and he did,"
Trammell said. "That's why it worked."

Detroit's Gary Knotts, making his first start since July 27,
allowed two runs in 4 2-3 innings, while Lohse gave up two runs in
5 1-3 innings for the Twins.
^Notes:@ With the win, the Twins clinched the season series with the
Tigers, and improved to 53-20 against Detroit since 2001. ... The
Tigers (64-76) are now a season-worst 12 games under .500, while
the Twins (81-60) are 21 over for the first time since the end of
the 2002 season. ... Craig Monroe's hitting streak ended at a
career-best 12 games.