By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Three times in the past four years their division has been decided on the last day of the season, and the Minnesota Twins hope to avoid another dramatic, draining finish.
If they keep playing this well against the Detroit Tigers, maybe they can.
Justin Morneau homered and drove in two runs, Kevin Slowey pitched six strong innings and the Twins topped the Tigers 5-1 on Wednesday to improve to 19-10 against American League Central opponents this year.
"It would be nice to get that hot streak and be ahead," Morneau said, "instead of chasing and using up all we have just to get in."
The Twins have many improvements to make with their starting pitching and clutch hitting before they can think about the playoffs again.
The Chicago White Sox closed in while the Twins struggled through the past month, and the Tigers passed them for first place for the first time since early April after winning here on Monday.
The Twins pushed their lead back to 1½ games on this afternoon after a strong performance by Slowey (8-5), beating the Tigers for the sixth time in nine games this season.
"If we can just pitch, we'll be fine," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "So it's all about kind of righting our own ship and not worrying about who you're playing."
Slowey, who is 20-7 at home since 2008, completed six innings for only the sixth time in 16 starts this season. He could've pitched more, but Magglio Ordonez's comebacker bounced off and bruised his right ankle before he threw him out on the final play of the sixth. Slowey wasn't allowed back in the game, but he said he should be fine.
The right-hander walked gingerly to the dugout after throwing 81 pitches and allowing only five baserunners, ending a three-start slide in which he gave up 18 runs over 12 innings.
With two outs in the fourth, an alarm was triggered at Target Field -- sending a siren sound over the public address system for a few seconds. A recorded voice blared, "Attention!"
"I started laughing, for sure," Slowey said.
Then Ordonez singled and Miguel Cabrera doubled for the game's first run. Later, the public address announcer told the crowd there was no reason to worry and that the alarm was being reset.
Between the RBI double and solo homer by Morneau, the Twins used some small ball to build their lead against Tigers rookie Andy Oliver (0-2) in his second major league start.
With reliever Joel Zumaya out for the season and a bunch of recently rough starts from the rotation, the Tigers have some pitching problems. After a fine debut last week in Atlanta, Oliver frequently found himself in trouble.
The left-hander struck out Jim Thome three times after the old slugger homered in each of the past two games, but everybody else hit at least one ball hard against him.
The soft ones made an impact, too.
Nick Punto hit an infield single that shortstop Danny Worth mishandled to start the fifth inning, and Drew Butera moved him over with a bunt -- landing safe at first when Oliver's throw was high. Denard Span laid down a sacrifice of his own, Orlando Hudson gave the Twins the lead with a sacrifice fly, and Delmon Young delivered an RBI single from the third spot in the order where he filled in for Joe Mauer.
Defense can be as much of a concern for Detroit as the pitching. Johnny Damon fumbled a ball in left field on Michael Cuddyer's single, allowing Jason Kubel to score after Morneau's home run in the sixth. The Tigers have 55 errors, second-most in the league and nearly twice as many as the Twins this season.
"We didn't execute today, and we got beat," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Before everyone was saying it was because of the Metrodome. Now what is it? Because it's Target Field? It has nothing to do with it. They're a good team."
Damon denied any hangover from Zumaya's devastating injury.
"We've got to get guys hot again," Damon said.
The Tigers have lost six of their past nine.
"I can't put a finger on it," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "We're just not getting it done. I know it's not lack of focus and lack of effort. I know that."
NOTES: J.J. Hardy was to start his rehab assignment Wednesday with Class A Beloit, where he'll play three games at SS and be back with the Twins by Saturday if he and his left wrist pass the test. ... Cabrera has 42 of his majors-most 68 RBIs on the road. ... Mauer had the day off, so Young moved up five spots in the lineup. "He was really pumped," Gardenhire said.