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Homer-happy Twins beat Pirates, win sixth in a row

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins aren't a club that hits a
lot of home runs. Try convincing the Pittsburgh Pirates of that.

Justin Morneau hit Minnesota's third homer of the game to break
an eighth-inning tie and give the Twins their sixth victory in a
row, 5-3 over the Pirates on Saturday night.

Twins relievers Kyle Lohse, Jesse Crain (1-4) and Joe Nathan
combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Boof Bonser was
lifted after 3 1/3 innings in his first start since June 7. Nathan
got his 10th save in as many opportunities and his third in as many
games by pitching a scoreless ninth following Crain's two shutout
innings.

The Twins were eight games under .500 at 25-33 on June 7, but
have won eight of nine to get back to within a game of .500 at
33-34. Their six-game winning streak is their first since last Aug.
14-19.

Jason Kubel and Terry Tiffee, making a spot start at third base,
also homered for the Twins in a span of three pitches --
back-to-back drives to start the third inning against rookie
left-hander Paul Maholm (2-6).

"I was trying to be aggressive against them, but I left those
pitches right over the middle of the plate," said Maholm, winless
in six starts since May 16.

The Twins had not hit consecutive homers since Juan Castro and
Shannon Stewart did so on May 28, 2005. Even with the three-homer
night, the Twins are next to last in the AL with 60 homers in 67
games.

"We've got guys who can hit home runs," manager Rod Gardenhire
said. "We're known for slapping the ball around and beating the
ball around, but we've been swinging the bats a lot better lately.
We've hit some grand slams and we're taking better at-bats with
runners in scoring position, all those things."

Kubel, homering for the fourth time in five games, also drove in
the run that made it 3-1 with a groundout in the fourth.

Minnesota has won two in a row in Pittsburgh after going 10-24
in its first 34 road games. The Twins came into the series off a
5-1 homestand against the Orioles and Red Sox.

"The team hasn't been winning a whole lot of games on the road,
so to keep the good baseball going from the homestand feels good,"
Tiffee said.

The Pirates, 1-4 on a seven-game homestand, rallied to tie it at
3 on Freddy Sanchez's two-run single in the fourth that chased
Bonser and brought on Lohse. Ronny Paulino also homered for the
Pirates, a solo drive in the third that was his second in the
majors.

Morneau's 16th homer came on the first pitch he saw in the
eighth after reliever Damaso Marte (0-5) quickly retired Joe Mauer
and Michael Cuddyer. Morneau is 16-for-36 (.444) during a nine-game
hitting streak that coincides with the Twins' recent surge.

"He hit a flat breaking ball that didn't have any depth and
stayed up in the strike zone," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said.
"They got that one key hit before we could get it."

With Jason Bartlett adding a run-scoring infield single in the
ninth off Roberto Hernandez, the Twins improved to 4-1 and the
Pirates dropped to 1-4 in interleague play.

Gardenhire lifted Bonser after the right-hander repeatedly fell
behind in the count and keep several pitches up in the hitting zone
against the middle of the Pirates' lineup during the fourth.
Bonser, skipped the last time through the Twins' rotation, has
allowed 16 runs in his last 20 1/3 innings.

"He was behind too many hitters, and it didn't look like he was
going to be able to locate the ball," Gardenhire said.

Game notes
Twins 2B Luis Castillo, hitting .198 on the road, got the
night off despite having seven hits in his previous five games. ...
Mauer, the majors' leading hitter with a .380 average, went 1-for-3
with two walks and is 15-for-35 (.429) in his last nine games and
48-for-102 (.471) in his last 25 games. He is 15-for-27 (.556) in
his last seven road games. ... Nathan threw a combined 20 pitches
Friday and Saturday after making 42 to complete a two-inning save
against the Red Sox on Thursday night. ... Maholm, who leads NL
rookies in starts (14) and innings pitched (82 1-3) innings, gave
up three runs and five hits over seven innings. ... The Twins must
like playing the Pirates: They finished spring training by beating
them three days in a row.