MINNESOTA (CBS/AP) – Danny Valencia is hardly looking like a rookie for the Minnesota Twins.
Valencia delivered another key hit, launching a tiebreaking three-run homer in the sixth inning that sent Kevin Slowey and the AL Central-leading Twins over the Oakland Athletics 4-2 Saturday.
The Twins cut their magic number for clinching the division to six. Minnesota began the day with a nine-game lead over second-place Chicago.
“You see all these situations coming up in the minor leagues,” Valencia said. “Obviously everything is magnified up here, but it’s still the same game and you’ve just got to go with it.”
Valencia, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Repko each had two hits for the Twins.
Slowey (13-6) set a career high for wins, giving up two runs and five hits in 6 2-3 innings. Matt Capps earned his 40th save and 13th in 15 chances since coming to Minnesota.
Landon Powell homered and doubled for Oakland. Rookie Chris Carter kept struggling, going 0 for 2 with a pair of strikeouts — he is 0 for 29 with 13 whiffs since making his major league debut this season.
Carter also came up short on a line drive hit down the left-field line which led to the Twins’ first run in the fifth.
“It’s a ball that I think he’d catch more often than he wouldn’t,” Athletics manager Bob Geren said. “If he had to do it again, I think he’d catch that eight or nine out of 10 times. He just didn’t catch that one.”
A stark contrast to Carter, Valencia has been right in the middle of the Twins ascension during his rookie year. Since arriving at the start of June, Valencia has hit .340 with 33 RBIs and taken control of third base, a rotating spot for Minnesota the past several seasons.
“I’ve been more impressed with his defense than any other part of his game because he’s worked really hard at catching the ball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And he knows how much that means to us. I thought he had a heck of a spring for us in the short time he was there. And he’s probably going above what we thought he would do his first year up here. He’s really playing well.”
Dallas Braden (9-13) went six innings for Oakland, allowing four runs on eight hits and four walks.
Valencia connected for the second straight game, his fourth home run this season snapping a 1-all tie in the sixth.
The Twins have seen Valencia deliver in the clutch as he’s hit .431 with runners in scoring position. He’s done damage at Target Field, hitting .456 for the best home batting average in the majors.
“You want to come out, being a first-year guy, and you want to perform,” Valencia said. “Luckily, I’ve caught a bunch of breaks since I’ve been here. Things couldn’t have gone much better for me than they are right now.”
Slowey, meanwhile, is trying to put himself in position for a potential starting spot in the playoffs.
Since a trip to the disabled list with a right triceps strain at the end of August, Slowey is 2-0 and has allowed four earned runs over 15 2-3 innings in his last three starts.
Slowey gave up just one hit — Powell’s solo home run in the second — through the first four innings.
“I think part of it is just time,” Slowey said. “Time and repetition coming back from the DL and starting to trust your stuff a little bit more.”
Braden, who had allowed just five earned runs over his last five road starts, cruised before the Twins scored in the fifth to tie it.
“I’m 20 innings past my career max at any level,” Braden said. “This is uncharted territory as far as what my body feels like and how to maintain and bounce back. But that’s something you learn and benefit from, going through these ups and downs at this point of the season.”
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