MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ There's a three-team race in the AL Central, and the Minnesota Twins are surging toward the lead with three weeks left in the regular season.
Carlos Silva threw seven smooth innings, Michael Cuddyer homered and drove in four runs and the Twins beat the Oakland Athletics 9-4 Monday night to move within 1 1/2 games of idle Detroit in the AL Central.
Minnesota, which trailed the Tigers by 12 games at the All-Star break and had not been this close to first place since before play on April 18, took three of four from the division leaders over the weekend.
``It was awesome,'' Cuddyer said. ``To be able to keep that momentum and that excitement was huge.''
Silva's only blemish was a fourth-inning home run by Frank Thomas, who homered for the sixth straight game, two shy of the major league record, and has 36 this year. That was also Silva's majors-high 35th home run allowed this season.
Torii Hunter also went deep for the Twins, though, and Nick Punto added a two-run single in support of Silva (9-13), who held Tampa Bay to one hit over six shutout innings last week before pulling himself because of an upset stomach from a game that Minnesota's major league-leading bullpen blew.
Lowering his ERA to 6.08, Silva gave up five hits, one run and one walk while striking out one. He has struggled all season, but since loosening the grip on his trusty sinker his last two starts have been the best of the year.
``You see it on his face today. It's a sigh of relief,'' Cuddyer said. ``It's tension-free. He's not down on himself.''
First-place Oakland stayed 5 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles in the AL West. The Chicago White Sox, who won 3-2 in Los Angeles, are third in the Central and 1 1/2 games behind the Twins in the wild-card standings.
In other AL games, New York beat Baltimore 9-6 and Toronto beat Seattle 6-2.
Joe Blanton (15-11) was the fourth straight A's starter to have trouble, after Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza and Dan Haren each gave up four runs or more in recent outings that lasted six innings or less.
Blanton surrendered nine hits, six runs (five earned) and three walks in 5 1-3 innings. After Cuddyer's two-run homer in the fourth, Justin Morneau singled and scored on an error by Eric Chavez. The five-time Gold Glove third baseman bobbled Jason Bartlett's chopper with his bare hand and couldn't throw him out.
Hunter homered leading off the sixth and Punto, after Brad Halsey had replaced Blanton, drove in Jason Tyner and Bartlett with his two-out hit that made it 6-1.
``I feel like I was struggling with my command all night,'' Blanton said. ``It was one of those games I felt I had to fight through every hitter.''
Still, A's manager Ken Macha was pleased by the way his team didn't quit.
Joe Nathan got last four outs for his 31st save, retiring Marco Scutaro on a first-pitch popup with the bases loaded to end the eighth with the tying run at first.
Chavez hit a sacrifice fly earlier in the inning off Jesse Crain, a run charged to Dennys Reyes that ended his scoreless innings streak at 21 1-3. Crain later walked Dan Johnson, forcing in a run and cutting the lead to 6-3.
In the ninth, Nathan walked the bases loaded and gave up a sacrifice fly to Milton Bradley before settling down and finishing the game.
``This club's amazing,'' Macha said. ``We made Nathan earn that save.''
White Sox 3, Angels 2
In Anaheim, Calif., Jose Contreras pitched eight strong innings and A.J. Pierzynski doubled home the go-ahead run to lead the White Sox.
Contreras (13-7) outpitched John Lackey (11-10) and won consecutive starts for the first time since June 12, allowing one run and six hits while striking out eight. The All-Star right-hander, who beat the Angels with a complete game in the AL championship series clincher last year, was 9-0 in his first 15 starts this season and went 2-7 over his next 11 outings before beating Boston 8-1 last week.
Yankees 9, Orioles 6
In Baltimore, the Yankees lowered their magic number for clinching a ninth straight division title to 10 behind Robinson Cano's three-run double past stumbling Orioles left fielder Fernando Tatis in a six-run seventh inning.
Randy Johnson (17-10) won his third straight start and picked up career win No. 280 despite allowing five runs and nine hits in six innings. He left trailing 5-2, but his team rallied against rookie James Hoey (0-1) and sent 10 men to the plate in the decisive seventh.
Blue Jays 6, Mariners 2
In Seattle, Ted Lilly got his career-high 13th win, allowing four hits in seven innings to lead the Blue Jays, who crept within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Red Sox in the AL East.
Lilly (13-12), who won 12 games each in 2003 and 2004, allowed two runs, struck out five and walked two. Brandon League and Jeremy Accardo finished the five-hitter.
Jake Woods (4-3) gave up five runs, eight hits and three walks in 5 1-3 innings for the Mariners. He has not pitched six innings in any of his five major league starts.