Morneau's homer, three RBIs power Twins to ninth straight win

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Minnesota was down 3-0 against the lowly San Diego Padres for the second time in less than 24 hours when Justin Morneau hit an impressive two-run homer.

An inning later, the game was tied. One more and the Twins had gone ahead.

That's how it's been going for the streaking Twins, who beat the Padres 4-3 on Thursday for their ninth straight win, all against NL teams.

The Twins will probably be sad to see interleague play end.

"It seems like it's somebody different every game coming up with that big hit," Morneau said. "We don't usually do it too flashy but it seems like we find a way to get it done. It's fun to watch."

Morneau went 3-for-4 with a walk and three RBIs. Twins starter Scott Baker also had a big day. Baker (4-2) got his first big league hit and scored his first run while holding the Padres to three runs and six hits in six innings. Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save in 23 chances.

The Twins swept the Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and now the Padres. Prior to that, they won two of three against Milwaukee. Minnesota is 12-3 overall against the NL this season going into their final interleague series at home this weekend against the Brewers.

The Twins have gained six games on the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox during this round of interleague play. The Twins have outscored their opponents 56-19 during the nine-game winning streak, and their starters are 8-0 with a 2.17 ERA. It's their longest winning streak since taking 11 straight from June 22-July 3, 2006.

Manager Ron Gardenhire said the Twins got rolling by winning the first two of three at Milwaukee.

"We've played really good baseball since then," he said.

On this quick trip to San Diego, "A lot of things happened for us," Gardenhire said. "Every mistake they made we capitalized on it. It's just how the ball bounces. It's one of those streaks where things are going right for you. You're getting some breaks and you're taking advantage of them."

The Padres lost their fifth straight game and for the 10th time in 12 games. Greg Maddux couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in a 9-3 loss on Wednesday night and rookie Josh Banks (2-2) did the same on Thursday.

Morneau brought the Twins back with two swings. He homered to straightaway center field in the fifth inning and hit an RBI single in the fifth. His homer, estimated at 419 feet, was his 12th, and came with Mike Redmond aboard on a leadoff single.

"That gets everybody fired up and right back in the game and we just kind of grind it out after that," Gardenhire said.

"I got a fastball up and he does what he does," Banks said.

On Morneau's RBI single, "I threw a pretty good split but he got a good piece of it," Banks said. "There is nothing you can do. He's a good hitter."

It was the fifth homer during the series at spacious Petco Park for the Twins, who came into the day with just 51, tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the fewest in the majors.

Baker singled to right leading off the fifth, advanced on Redmond's single and scored when Morneau singled to right.

Banks allowed Jason Kubel's leadoff double in the sixth, then left after retiring Brendan Harris. Brian Corey came on and promptly gave up a broken-bat RBI single by Brian Buscher against a drawn-in infield that put the Twins ahead 4-3.

The Padres can't afford to blow any leads, especially early ones.

"It's great to get ahead early," manager Bud Black said. "We need to tack on and we haven't been able to."

Banks allowed four runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings.

San Diego had runners on second and third and one out but failed to score. Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a one-out single and took third on rookie Chase Headley's double to right. Fans booed when third base coach Glenn Hoffman held up Kouzmanoff. Buscher, the third baseman, fielded Khalil Greene's grounder and threw out Kouzmanoff at home, and Luke Carlin struck out to end the inning.

"We are not playing well over the last couple of weeks," Black said. "We have to right the ship."

Greene hit a two-out homer in the second, his eighth. Brian Giles hit a sacrifice fly in the third and another run scored that inning on a throwing error by Harris, the shortstop.

Game notes
With the NBA draft on Thursday night, the Padres turned to forward Jared Dudley of the Charlotte Bobcats to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Dudley played at San Diego's Horizon High and was Charlotte's first-round pick last year out of Boston College.