Rangers stretch wild-card lead to 1 game with win vs. Twins

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers avoided a letdown after winning a big weekend series over their closest playoff competitor.

Marlon Byrd drove in three runs and the Rangers extended their lead in the AL wild-card race, beating the slumping Minnesota Twins 8-5 Monday night.

After taking two of three over the weekend from Boston, the Rangers stretched their advantage to one game over the Red Sox atop the wild-card standings.

Josh Hamilton had two hits and scored twice as he batted third in the Rangers lineup for the first time since July 25. David Murphy added two RBIs for Texas, which jumped out to a 7-2 lead after the second.

"We're trying to take the approach of keeping the intensity like Boston is here every day or the Angels are here every day," said Hamilton, who was dropped to as low as seventh in the lineup earlier this month.

Tommy Hunter (6-2) won his third straight start, allowing four runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Since he was called up from the minors on June 28, Hunter has gone 6-2 with a 2.38 ERA in nine starts.

"The first two innings, Tommy had trouble with his command," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But he hung out there and fought like the warrior that he is."

Minnesota All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau left in the fourth inning with an inner ear infection. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the 2006 MVP is day to day after he began experiencing dizziness.

Gardenhire also said after the game that Twins starter Francisco Liriano (5-12) will go on the disabled list Tuesday with a tired arm. The left-hander gave up seven runs, tying a career high, and seven hits in two innings.

"It will be a break both mentally and physically," Gardenhire said. "He's part of our present, but he's part of our future too. We don't want to do anything to hurt him."

It was Liriano's shortest start since lasting two-thirds of an inning April 24, 2008 against Oakland.

Liriano, Oakland's Trevor Cahill and Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie are tied with the most losses in the AL.

Minnesota starting pitchers have lasted only a combined 8 1/3 innings the past three games.

"I didn't say anything about my arm in the first inning," Liriano said. "I wanted to go four or five innings to save the bullpen."

After Hunter was taken out in favor of Darren O'Day, the Twins scored three times to come within 7-5.

Delmon Young had a bases-loaded walk and Nick Punto added a two-run single before the Rangers brought in Neftali Feliz to get the final out of the sixth.

Frank Francisco pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his 18th save.

The Rangers (67-50) are 17 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 26, 2004. The Rangers were in contention until the final week of the 2004 season, the last time the club made a serious playoff push.

"We're in territory we've never been before," Washington said. "We're learning and showing a lot of character."

Joe Mauer went 3 for 5 and homered in the first for the Twins, who have lost 12 of 16. He pushed his hitting streak to 14 games and raised baseball's best batting average to .380.

The Rangers answered Mauer's 23rd home run with three runs in the first.

Byrd was hit in the foot by a pitch with the bases loaded, Murphy followed with an RBI single and Hank Blalock added a sacrifice fly to put the Rangers ahead 3-1.

Young's RBI double cut Minnesota's deficit to 3-2.

Byrd had a two-run single, Murphy hit a sacrifice fly and Andruw Jones chipped in with an RBI single that extended Texas' advantage to 7-2.

Elvis Andrus capped the scoring with an RBI triple in the seventh.

Game notes
Texas C Kevin Richardson had two hits in his first career game. ... Gardenhire said after the game that RHP Anthony Swarzak will start Thursday instead of LHP Brian Duensing. ... Texas 2B Ian Kinsler, who was hit by a pitch that ricocheted off his shoulder to his head Saturday night, was plunked again. This time, the pitch brushed the front of his jersey near his belt.