MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Brad Radke didn't get the win, but the Minnesota Twins still credited him for one of their most important victories this season.
Solid pitching, plus a little power and fast feet, helped the Twins send a message to Kansas City in the AL Central race with a 6-2 win over the Royals on Thursday.
Radke pitched seven sharp innings, pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning after Shannon Stewart's hustle on a bunt forced a key misplay and Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter each hit homers.
"We definitely didn't want him to lose that ballgame when you pitch like that," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He knew what was on the line. He knew we needed to beat these guys."
After allowing an RBI triple to Raul Ibanez in the first, Radke retired 17 in a row and led 2-1 in the seventh until Ibanez hit a solo homer to tie it. Matching Kansas City's Darrell May in a crisp pitchers' duel, Radke gave up five hits, two runs and four walks while striking out four.
"Brad was vintage Brad today," Jones said.
Though he's just 6-9 with a 5.33 ERA, Radke still has the Twins' confidence -- especially in a key game.
"As we usually say around here, Radke came up big when we needed him the most," Gardenhire said.
The Twins salvaged a split of the two-game series and pulled within 5 1/2 games of the Royals in the AL Central. The Chicago White Sox are in second place. Improving to just 4-8 against Kansas City this year, Minnesota -- 6-2 since the All-Star break after losing 22 of 28 -- admitted this was a game it had to have.
"It was huge," Jones said. "We don't want to get too far back toward the pack."
After LaTroy Hawkins (7-2) pitched the eighth, the Twins scored four times off Jason Grimsley to take the lead. Denny Hocking led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and Stewart moved him over with a sacrifice bunt that first baseman Ken Harvey fielded.
But Stewart avoided the tag -- twisting his torso away from Harvey, almost leaving the baseline -- and took second when Harvey's throw sailed past second baseman Carlos Febles, who was covering the bag.
"I was assuming he was out, and I shouldn't have," Harvey said. "Then I rushed it. That play totally changed the game, and it was my fault."
Pierzynski's single made it 3-2, and Stewart came home on Grimsley's wild pitch. Doug Mientkiewicz walked, and Jones doubled in the last two runs.
The Royals, 30-10 against the Central this year, are still in good shape -- far better than anyone expected of them. But they know that staving off the improved White Sox and the defending division-champion Twins is not going to be easy.
"Not too many people believed that we would be where we are today," manager Tony Pena said. "Nobody's going to give it to us. We are in first place with two great ballclubs behind us. They're going to be there. Nobody's running away."
May, who began the season 0-4 with 12 no-decisions in his first 16 starts, gave up just two runs over 20 innings of his previous three outings. He walked three and allowed just three hits in seven innings. May struck out two, missing a chance for a career-best sixth straight victory.
"The results were good, but I wasn't happy with the outing overall," he said. "I felt a little off the whole game."
Notes: Jose Lima (groin) threw out of the bullpen Thursday, and Pena said he hopes he'll start Sunday. ... Royals starters have a 2.10 ERA in their last 11 games. ... Since June 27, Jones is batting .385 (15-for-39) against left-handers. ... Radke went at least six innings for the third straight time, a season-best streak.
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