Zito goes seven strong for 20th victory

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Barry Zito put another big No. 20 into the

books for the surging Oakland Athletics.

Barry Zito leads the AL with 21 victories.
Barry Zito leads the AL with 21 victories.

Two nights after Oakland's winning streak was snapped at 20,

Zito became the American League's first 20-game winner of the

season, limiting the Minnesota Twins to three hits in seven innings

in a 6-0 victory Sunday night.

Zito (20-5) struck out seven and walked two, as the 24-year-old

pitcher boosted his chances for the Cy Young Award.

Just don't tell him that.

''I'm not pitching for the Cy Young,'' Zito said. ''I'm pitching

to win as many games as we can for the team and first place.''

Miguel Tejada and Adam Piatt homered as the A's won for the 22nd

time in 23 games to maintain a two-game lead over Anaheim in the AL

West. Oakland opens a four-game series at Anaheim on Monday night,

with Tim Hudson pitching against Kevin Appier.

Jim Mecir and Ricardo Rincon finished the three-hitter for

Oakland's major league-leading 17th shutout.

With the A's up 3-0, Minnesota had its best chance to score in

the fourth with two on and one out. But Zito fanned Torii Hunter

and Bobby Kielty to end the threat.

Zito said he was nervous about coming to the Metrodome, where

last season he lost two consecutive and had a 10.54 ERA. Zito said he

spoke with his father over the last week for some encouragement

heading into his fifth career start against the Twins.

''He knew it bothered me a lot,'' he said. ''It's much more

satisfying to me to pitch well at the Metrodome.''

The Twins noticed.

''Zito was unbelievable,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''We

didn't have too many chances.''

Kielty, who struck out three times against Zito, said the

left-hander had all his pitches working for him.

''He was just throwing all three pitches for strikes. Fastballs,

curveballs, changeups. And he was mixing them up really well,'' he


Zito improved to 44-17 (.721) in his three-year career, the best

winning percentage in modern major league history with a minimum of

50 decisions. He is 5-0 in his last six starts.

The Twins, who ended Oakland's AL-record 20-game winning streak

Friday night, again struggled against a left-handed pitcher. Jacque

Jones went 2-for-4 and David Ortiz singled for Minnesota's hits.

The Twins are 18-26 against left-handed starters this season.

Zito retired 10 in a row after giving up Jones' leadoff single in

the first.

''Tonight just wasn't good. There wasn't much intensity,''

Minnesota's Corey Koskie said.

It was another frustrating outing for Eric Milton (13-8). He

lasted only four innings in his second start since coming off the

disabled list last week after being sidelined nearly a month

because of an injured knee.

Milton, who went only three-plus innings Tuesday, allowed three

runs and four hits in this one.

With Milton struggling with his control, the A's jumped ahead in

the first when Jermaine Dye drove in Ray Durham to make it 1-0.

With one out and the bases loaded, the Twins had a chance to

turn a double play on Durham's grounder. But Ortiz, playing first

base for Doug Mientkiewicz, couldn't handle Luis Rivas' throw and

Durham scored.

''It's always important to score in the first inning,'' Durham

said. ''It sets the tone. If you can push across a run in the first

inning, like we did tonight, it was a sigh of relief.''

The A's are 69-19 this season when they score first.

Tejada hit a 3-1 pitch from Milton over the left-center wall in

the third for his 31st homer and a 2-0 lead. One inning later,

Piatt hit a solo shot to nearly the same spot.

Eric Chavez, who went 2-for-3, put the A's up 4-0 in the fifth

with a run-scoring single off Johan Santana. Oakland added two more runs on Mark Ellis' double in the seventh.

Game notes
Oakland plays eight of its final 20 games against Anaheim.

... Mientkiewicz sat out his second consecutive game with a sore

wrist. ... Milton came into the game averaging 1.5 walks a game. He

walked two batters in the first inning. ... Piatt had gone 109

at-bats without a home run. ... The Twins exhausted their supply of

more than 50,000 Homer Hankies over the weekend. The team gave away

20,000 Friday. A new batch is expected to arrive before the game

Tuesday against Detroit.