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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/18/2011

Leading off: Minnesota Twins kick off crucial stretch with doubleheader against Cleveland Indians

Games of the day: Cleveland at Minnesota, 1:10 and 7:10 p.m. After falling 16.5 games out of first place on June 1, the Twins have climbed back to the fringe of the American League Central race. They sit five games behind Cleveland and Detroit entering Monday, and will start a crucial stretch of eight games against the Indians and Tigers with a pivotal doubleheader Monday against the Indians. Right-hander Scott Baker (7-5) will start Game 1 for the Twins, going for his sixth win in his last seven starts. Baker, who missed his last scheduled start before the all-star break because of an elbow strain, has three scoreless outings in his last four starts. Right-hander Fausto Carmona (4-10) will come off the disabled list to pitch the afternoon game for Cleveland. Carmona left his last start on July 2 after two innings because of a strained quadriceps. In his eight starts before that, Carmona went 1-7 with an 8.58 ERA.

Other game to watch: Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 7:05 p.m. The Pirates are in their first legitimate pennant race in a generation, while the defending NL Central champion Reds are trying to stay close in the division race. Left-hander Dontrelle Willis (0-0) will make his second start of the season for the Reds after he was recalled from Class AAA just before the all-star break. Willis took a no-decision in his first start when he allowed two runs in six innings July 10 against Milwaukee. Right-hander James McDonald (5-4) will start for Pittsburgh, and while McDonald has earned four straight no-decisions, the Pirates have won five of his last six starts. McDonald is 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA at home this season compared to 3-3 with a 5.79 ERA on the road.

Games you should have seen:

Atlanta 9, Washington 8. Freddie Freeman hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Braves overcame an early 6-2 deficit to beat the Nationals. After Washington scored four runs in the top of the fourth inning to go ahead 6-2, Brian McCann’s three-run home run keyed a five-run fifth inning for Atlanta. Danny Espinosa put the Nationals back ahead 8-7 with a two-run homer in the top of the sixth before Nate McLouth tied the game at 8 in the eighth. Espinosa went 3 for 5 for the Nats.

San Francisco 4, San Diego 3 (11 innings). Chris Stewart brought home the go-ahead run with a suicide squeeze in the top of the 11th inning to send the Giants to an extra-inning win over the Padres. Giants closer Brian Wilson walked three Padres in the bottom of the 11th, but thanks largely to a bunt double play, Wilson escaped to earn his league-leading 28th save. San Francisco has won five of its last six games.

Stat you should know: 500. Home runs Twins designated hitter Jim Thome has hit as an American League player after the 40-year-old went deep Sunday in Minnesota’s 4-3 win over Kansas City. Thome has 596 career home runs, but he hit 96 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies from 2003-2005. Thome is the 11th player to hit 500 home runs while playing for an American League team.

Star of the night: Athletics left-hander Gio Gonzalez pitched seven shutout innings Sunday in Oakland’s 9-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Gonzalez allowed four hits, struck out eight and walked two. The all-star has allowed one earned run or fewer in four of his last five starts.

Chatter: “It was worth the wait.” — Phillies third baseman Michael Martinez, who hit his first career home run Sunday in Philadelphia’s 8-5 win over the New York Mets. The 28-year-old Martinez is in his first major league season.

By Greg Schimmel  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/18/2011

 
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