Inside Pitch: Bullpen Returning To Form

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, the bullpen is starting to be one of the team's strengths again, Johan Santana has the second lowest earned run average in the league, Torii Hunter breaks a long homerless streak, Joe Mauer finally gets a day off, and much more.

A Twins bullpen that was the backbone of division titles in 2002-04 is asserting itself again this season -- particularly in support of the team's current seven-game winning streak.

That streak, which is the longest for the Twins in two seasons, has been highlighted by lights-out pitching, including a 1.25 ERA over 21 2/3 innings by a bullpen that now leads the American League with a 3.33 ERA.

"Things are coming around pretty good," said right-hander Juan Rincon, the setup man with the 1.47 ERA who threw another 1-2-3 eighth inning Sunday. "We don't score that many runs, but we find a way to hold a lead. That's how this team was built."

The bullpen has held every lead it has been handed during the winning streak, and a three-game weekend sweep in Pittsburgh underscored the job the relief corps has done of late.

The Pirates didn't tap the Twins' relievers until Jason Bay's solo home run off rookie Willie Eyre with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a blowout Twins victory Sunday. Eyre retired the next batter to close out the series.

In the three games, the Pirates hit .100 (3-for-30) against Twins relievers with nine strikeouts.

REPLAY:
Johan Santana (7-4) pitched another stellar seven innings Sunday to earn his third straight victory, beating the Pirates 8-2. Santana lowered his ERA to 2.87 -- now second in the league to the 2.85 mark of Toronto's Roy Halladay.

The Twins' ninth victory in 10 games lifted their season record to .500 for the first time since they were 7-7 on April 19.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • CF Torii Hunter's game-tying home run in the seventh inning Sunday snapped a 59-at-bat homerless drought. It was his first home run since May 30 and just his second since May 15.

  • 2B Luis Castillo's infield single with two outs in the eighth inning Sunday snapped a 0-for-28 streak on the road.

  • 1B Justin Morneau's two-run double with two outs in the eighth inning Sunday extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He's batting .425 (17-for-40) during the streak with five homers and 15 RBIs.

  • C Joe Mauer, the major leagues' leading hitter (.380), got a rare day off Sunday as manager Ron Gardenhire took advantage of Monday's scheduled day off to make it two in a row for Mauer, whose next game is at night in Houston on Tuesday. Until Sunday, Mauer had played in 21 consecutive games since his last game off, May 24.

  • The Twins' three-game sweep at Pittsburgh was their first road sweep of the season and only the fourth road series win. They improved to 13-24 on the road -- 5-1 in National League cities, with the three wins in Pittsburgh plus a 2-1 mark at Milwaukee.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 36 --Days between victories for RHP Carlos Silva, who finally got a win June 15 when he beat Boston.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I was on first base, (Pirates 1B) Sean Casey said, 'That's just sick,' He said, 'I've never seen anything like that.'" -- CF Torii Hunter, on the Pirates' reaction to their first look at Twins rookie LHP Francisco Liriano.


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