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Minnesota continues to feast against AL East teams

Photo by Dan Hamilton / USA TODAY Minnesota outfielders Josh Willingham, left, Danny Santana, middle, and Oswaldo Arcia jump to celebrate a win over Toronto on Wednesday at Rogers Centre.

By Larry Millson

The Sports Xchange

TORONTO — The Minnesota Twins have enjoyed playing against the American League East this season.

With Kendrys Morales and Josh Willingham each driving in three runs and Phil Hughes pitching seven scoreless innings, the Twins defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 7-2 on Wednesday to clinch the three-game series.

Willingham got the Twins (31-33) off to quick start with a two-run homer against right-hander Marcus Stroman. They are now are 6-for-6 in series and 12-6 in games against American League East teams, including two against the first-place Blue Jays.

“It says a lot, it’s a tough division to pitch in, especially on the road,” said Hughes, who is familiar with AL East as a former New York Yankee. “So to be able to come in here and win a series is huge, especially with the offensive capabilities that they have. New York and all these places you go are tough. You have to go out and pitch a good game.”

Hughes (7-2) certainly pitched well, allowing seven hits, no walks and no runs while striking out a season-best nine.

The Blue Jays (39-28) have lost four of their past five games, including three shutouts, and they needed two eighth-inning runs against right-handed reliever Jared Burton to avert a fourth.

“I think we’ve cooled off pretty good, pretty much top to bottom throughout that lineup,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “We’re not getting any in bunches and following hits with other hits and things like that. But that’s the way it goes.”

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “It was a nice ballgame and it all starts with the starter and a super job again by him. Changing speeds, moving the ball in and out, just what we’ve been seeing. Used his breaking ball a lot better today.”

Hughes had runners at the corners with none out in the sixth inning and with one out in the seventh, but the Twins right-hander worked out of the jams each time.

“We had our big chance in the sixth inning there, first and third with no outs, and couldn’t put anything across,” Gibbons said.

Gardenhire said, “He made big pitches, huge pitches. He got us back in still with a shutout. That was a huge inning for him and then went back out for the seventh and had a big inning, too.”

Stroman (3-1) allowed nine hits, including a two-run homer by Willingham in the first, and three runs in six innings in his first major-league loss.

“It was all right; I battled,” Stroman said. “I definitely didn’t have my best stuff, just up in the zone a lot. I feel like I was able to battle and get through six, but definitely didn’t have my strongest stuff.”

The Twins continued their trend of first-inning homers when Willingham, their left fielder, hit his fifth home run of the season.

“A bad curveball,” Stroman said. “Probably the worst pitch of the outing.”

It scored center fielder Danny Santana, who led off with a single.

The Twins had homers from Santana and second baseman Brian Dozier in the first game of the series won 5-4 by Toronto and a two-run homer by Dozier in their 4-0 win on Tuesday.

Dozier was 0-for-2 in Wednesday’s game before leaving in the fourth inning with lower back tightness. He collided with shortstop Eduardo Nunez on a bloop double by Blue Jays catcher Erik Kratz in the second inning. Eduardo Escobar took over at second base.

The Twins scored again in the sixth. Morales led off with a double. Right fielder Oswaldo Arcia singled to right, sending Morales to third. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit a sacrifice fly to right to put the Twins into a 3-0 lead.

Morales drove in three runs with a double in the seventh against reliever Bobby Korecky to lift the Twins to a 6-0 lead. It scored Santana, who led off with an infield single; Escobar, who bunted for a single; and first baseman Joe Mauer, who walked as part of a three-hit game.

The Blue Jays, who were shut out 4-0 on Tuesday, broke through with two runs in the eighth.

Left fielder Melky Cabrera led off with a walk and scored on a double by right fielder Jose Bautista. First baseman Adam Lind singled and pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro hit a two-out, RBI single.

Willingham singled in a run in the ninth against left-hander Brett Cecil.