MINNEAPOLIS -- Still struggling to score, the Minnesota Twins are starting to figure out how to win the close games they really need.
The Baltimore Orioles sure could've used a couple of these victories, too.
Jacque Jones homered with one out in the ninth inning, and the Twins beat the Orioles 3-2 on Wednesday to carry some momentum into an 11-game trip.
Minnesota has played eight straight one-run games, winning the last two on ninth-inning hits by Jones to take an important three-game series from a Baltimore team that has dropped 14 of its last 22.
The Twins improved to 20-19 in one-run decisions, the most obvious difference in an AL Central race that the White Sox led by 12 games when the day began. Chicago is 23-9 in one-run games.
"They get old, but we'll take them any way we can," Jones said.
Jones went the other way on the first pitch he saw from Jason Grimsley (0-1). His infield single Tuesday night gave Minnesota a 4-3 win.
"When you have a chance to put them away, you have to put them away," said the Orioles' Brian Roberts. "We spoiled a couple of good pitching performances."
Rafael Palmeiro hit a two-run homer for Baltimore, one of the few offensive highlights during an impressive matchup between Rodrigo Lopez and Brad Radke.
Miguel Tejada just missed a two-out homer in the ninth against Joe Nathan (2-3), settling for a double off the top of the right-field wall. Palmeiro was intentionally walked, and Sammy Sosa struck out swinging.
Palmeiro's big hit also made quite an impact on his placement in several all-time statistical categories. He tied Wade Boggs for 23rd with 3,010 hits, tied Lou Gehrig for sixth in extra-base hits with 1,190, passed Frank Robinson to take 10th in total bases with 5,375 and passed Al Simmons for 15th in RBIs with 1,829.
But the Orioles were more concerned about the AL East race and the chances they wasted to stay in first place ahead of Boston and New York. They fell two games behind the Red Sox.
Grimsley, who had major elbow surgery last October and was not expected back for at least another two months, was activated from the disabled list right after the All-Star break. This was his third appearance.
Denying that he felt any rust, Grimsley was surprised to see Jones keep his bat back and send the ball to left field.
"Ninety times out of 100, he's going to pull the ball," Grimsley said.
The Twins have been sputtering at the plate lately, but they've shown more signs of patience in the last two games and expressed confidence in their ability to break this slump. Though catching the White Sox will be a tall order, they began the day tied for first with the Yankees in the wild-card race, just ahead of the Orioles.
"They're battling, they're starting to feel good about themselves and that's good," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Two wins in a row will do that."
Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, Minnesota finally got to Lopez in the sixth when Nick Punto started with a single and scored on Shannon Stewart's triple. Joe Mauer's groundout drove in Stewart, tying the game at 2.
Lopez left after walking Stewart with two outs in the eighth, yielding to Tim Byrdak. Without a decision, Lopez missed a chance to become Baltimore's first double-digit winner. He gave up six hits, two runs and one walk while striking out four.
"You've got to win these close ones when you're in a pennant race," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.
Radke, who has received just 17 runs of support in his last seven starts, gave up five hits and two runs in seven innings without a walk while striking out five and throwing 103 pitches.
Twins starters have been facing a fine margin for error, the way their teammates have been swinging.
"You've just got to keep plugging away," Stewart said. "It's just one of those things. It's baseball. You've just got to work through it."
- Palmeiro has hit in 10 straight games, and he's 17-for-36 during that span. Nine of his home runs have come over his last 32 games.
- Torii Hunter gave Lopez a scare in the sixth by smoking a ball back to the mound that glanced off the right-hander's ribcage and knocked the wind out of him. Lopez recovered and threw to first for the out before doubling over in pain. After a few minutes and a few warmup pitches, he was fine and stayed in the game.
- Stewart ended an 0-for-12 slide with the triple.