MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ervin Santana pitched strong into the eighth inning, Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier each had two hits and an RBI from the top two spots in Minnesota's lineup, and the Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 3-1 Tuesday to start a critical series for the American League wild card chasers.
Santana (6-4) turned in his fifth straight stellar start, surrendering five hits, one run and one walk while striking out seven. He gave up two singles to start the eighth, but Glen Perkins got three straight outs.
Kevin Jepsen struck out two in the ninth inning for his eighth save in nine tries since replacing Perkins as the closer.
The Twins (77-73) began the day trailing Houston by three games for the second AL wild card spot. The Indians (74-75) are two slots behind the Twins, with Los Angeles in between. The Astros and Angels played Tuesday in Houston.
The Indians have had a winning record just once this year, April 9 at 2-1. They've alternated wins and losses over the last 10 games.
Danny Salazar (13-9) struck out 21 batters over 13 innings in his first two turns against the Twins this season, beating them April 18 and May 10 with just seven hits and three runs allowed.
Salazar retired the first eight batters he faced until Eduardo Escobar fouled off three straight 2-2 pitches before drawing a walk. Hicks followed with a triple that left fielder Michael Brantley nearly nabbed with a diving catch, only to have the ball leak out of his glove. Dozier and Joe Mauer followed with hustling, sliding doubles to left-center, giving Santana and the Twins a three-run lead.
Brantley batted in the next inning, grounding out, before being replaced by Michael Martinez.
Salazar finished six innings with five hits, three runs and three walks allowed. He struck out four.
Mauer nearly made a sprawling stop of a sharp grounder down the line at first base to end the fifth inning, but he didn't handle it cleanly so Jose Ramirez had himself an RBI single. Otherwise, Santana was nearly untouchable.
The Indians and Twins started a stretch of seven games against each other over the next 10 days, with four at Cleveland next week.
Mauer, who also walked twice, stretched his career-long streak of reaching base to 41 straight games, tied for the third-longest in the major leagues this year. Only Bob Allison (42 games in 1961) had one longer in Twins history.
Indians: Brantley hurt his right shoulder, presumably diving for the triple by Hicks. The team said Brantley was under evaluation but announced no further details on his condition. Brantley had trouble with his left shoulder last month.
Twins: RHP Ricky Nolasco was expected to rejoin the team Wednesday, ready to pitch out of the bullpen if there's a role available. Nolasco had surgery on his right ankle July 14. He last pitched May 31.
Indians: RHP Corey Kluber (8-14, 3.44 ERA) will take the mound Wednesday, likely on a pitch limit. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner returned last week from a right hamstring injury and was limited to four innings.
Twins: RHP Phil Hughes (10-9, 4.58 ERA), who made his first relief appearance of the season during the doubleheader Saturday, will start Wednesday. Because of back trouble and general struggles, Hughes hasn't logged six or more innings in a game since July 24.