Twins must beat elite before joining legitimate contenders

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 5, 2002

The Minnesota Twins can't be considered legitimate pennant contenders until they start beating some of the elite teams in the American League.

John Olerud hit a tiebreaking double in the eighth inning and drove in two runs as the Seattle Mariners beat Minnesota 2-1 Thursday in a matchup of AL division leaders.

Seattle has won nine straight games against the Twins, who have lost six in a row at Safeco Field.

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''Today was two first-place teams playing a good game. There was no backing down on either side,'' Minnesota catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.

Maybe not, but the Twins need to show they're capable of more than just moral victories against tough competition. They went 0-6 against the AL East-leading Yankees this season and are 6-11 against the league's winning teams.

The Twins are 19-9 against Tampa Bay, Detroit and Kansas City -- the three worst teams in the AL -- and exactly .500 against everybody else. Minnesota even dropped two of three at home to the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.

That means, for now, the Twins have three All-Stars, a 6 1/2-game lead in the AL Central and little chance in the playoffs.

Mark McLemore went 3-for-3 with a single, double and triple. He led off the Seattle sixth with a triple to center and scored on Olerud's sacrifice fly to tie it .

''I thought about (the cycle) once, but I'm not a home-run hitter,'' McLemore said. ''Those things don't faze me. I want to get a ring.''

Arthur Rhodes (5-1) pitched a perfect eighth and retired one batter in the ninth before Kazuhiro Sasaki finished for his 20th save in 24 chances.

Seattle starter Freddy Garcia, trying for his 12th victory, allowed one run and six hits in seven solid innings.

Seven of Minnesota's last 11 games have been decided by one run.

The Twins last beat Seattle on May 22, 2001, at Minnesota. They have not won at Safeco since Sept. 8, 2000.

Yankees 7, Indians 1

Mike Mussina (12-3) helped end Jim Thome's seven-game homer streak -- one short of a major league record -- and Raul Mondesi hit his first home run for New York.

Thome went 0-for-3 with a walk at Yankee Stadium as he failed to match the record shared by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Long.

Mondesi, acquired from Toronto for a Double-A reliever Monday, homered off Chuck Finley (4-11) and hit an RBI double as New York won for the sixth time in seven games.

Jason Giambi added a three-run homer for the Yankees, who are a season-high 22 games over .500 and 12-0 against the AL Central.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter bruised his left lower leg and sprained his knee on a hard, takeout slide by John McDonald in the third inning. Jeter is day to day.

Cleveland (37-46) lost its fifth straight and dropped nine games below .500 for the first time since 1993.

Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 5

Nomar Garciaparra homered and drove in four runs at Fenway Park to lead Boston to its first five-game sweep in 13 years.

Trot Nixon homered and drove in three runs, and Derek Lowe (12-4) won in his final start before the All-Star game. The Red Sox have won 10 straight against the Blue Jays since losing on opening day.

Rangers 11, Devil Rays 8

Rafael Palmeiro hit a tiebreaking homer off Travis Harper (3-4) in the eighth as host Texas completed a three-game sweep despite falling behind by six runs in the first inning.

Palmeiro's home run was his 19th of the season and the 466th of his career. He moved out of a tie with Dave Winfield and into sole possession of 22nd place on the career list.

Ivan Rodriguez hit his third homer in two games, a three-run shot in the third, and Alex Rodriguez added his 25th for the Rangers.

The Devil Rays matched a club record with their eighth straight road loss.

Tigers 6, White Sox 5

Steve Sparks (4-8) won for the first time in six starts since May 29 as Detroit rallied with a four-run eighth inning at Comiskey Park.

Orioles 7, Angels 2

Gary Matthews Jr. hit a two-run double, Marty Cordova had three hits and 30-year-old rookie Travis Driskill (6-1) pitched visiting Baltimore past Anaheim.

Kevin Appier (6-7) has won just once in his last eight decisions.

Athletics 3, Royals 2

First baseman Raul Ibanez misplayed Scott Hatteberg's bases-loaded grounder for an error in the bottom of the ninth, giving Oakland a victory over Kansas City.

It was the third blown save in 17 chances for Royals closer Roberto Hernandez (1-1), denying starter Shawn Sedlacek his first major league victory.

Ibanez homered in the seventh inning to give Kansas City the lead. Billy Koch (5-0) got the win. The Associated Press