MINNEAPOLIS -- Every time Mike Maroth takes the mound these days, the Detroit Tigers come out with a win. Averaging nearly 6½ runs in his starts has certainly helped the cause.
Maroth allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings and Carlos Guillen homered and drove in four runs to help the Tigers to a 7-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
Detroit has won all seven of Maroth's starts this season, and the Tigers have won 10 of their past 11 games to jump into first place in the AL Central.
"Seven and oh, that's pretty good," Guillen said. "He throws strikes and keeps us in the game."
Maroth (3-0) missed the last four months of last season after having surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow, but has shown no ill effects upon his return. He allowed nine hits and struck out three to get his first victory since April 12.
"I think the best thing about Mike Maroth is he competes," manager Jim Leyland said. "He stays within himself and competes."
Detroit extended its lead over the Twins to 5½ games, but the Tigers know all too well that it's way too early to be celebrating. They held a 12½-game lead over the Twins last June before Minnesota rallied to win its fourth division title in five seasons.
"Our team has been putting up a lot of runs when I've pitched," said Maroth, who is undefeated despite a 4.69 ERA.
Johan Santana (4-3) would love to have the same kind of run support. He gave up just two runs on six hits with six strikeouts in six innings, but once again the struggling Twins offense got going a little too late to help him.
After Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney's throwing error allowed Michael Cuddyer to reach first base, Justin Morneau hit a two-run homer to left to pull Minnesota within 5-3 in the eighth.
But Guillen hit a two-run home run off Juan Rincon in the ninth, finishing a double shy of the cycle, to deal the Twins their seventh loss in nine games. Gary Sheffield also had three hits and a home run.
"I just can't wait for it to be over with," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said of the offensive doldrums. "I'm tired of it. ... We stink and we don't have any luck. What can I say?"
It usually takes Santana more than a month to get going, and this year has been no exception. He threw 98 pitches and lasted just five innings in a victory over Boston in his last start, and the Tigers hit him hard right from the jump on Friday night.
Sheffield hit a sky-high homer to left field to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and Brandon Inge's RBI single gave them a 2-1 lead after two.
It took Santana 50 pitches to get through the first two innings, and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner looked to be in more trouble in the fourth when Guillen led off with a triple. But Santana struck out Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames, and then left fielder Jason Kubel made his second diving catch of the night, this one on a line drive from Inge, to end the inning.
"We've struggled as a team from top to bottom," Santana said. "Hopefully we stay (together) as a group. We win as a team and we lose as a team."
Santana labored for most of the game, getting only one 1-2-3 inning, but the Tigers didn't have much to show for it.
Most of those line drives were hit right at Twins defenders, and they couldn't get enough hits until Jesse Crain took over in the seventh.
Guillen's two-run single in the seventh made the score 4-1, and Curtis Granderson added an RBI triple in the eighth off Matt Guerrier.
The Twins were impatient at the plate for most of the evening, diving after pitches out of the strike zone and trying to jump-start an offense that has been struggling all month.
Given the offensive futility, it was probably a good thing that Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire watched this one from his office. Gardenhire had knee surgery earlier in the day and couldn't make it down the 44 stairs to the Metrodome dugout.
Scott Ullger took over for Gardenhire, who expects to be back in the dugout on Saturday.
"We all try to hit eight-run home runs when nobody's on base," Gardenhire said. "We want to make it happen. We'll get it. I have a lot of faith in these guys."
Tigers RHP Jeremy Bonderman will miss his scheduled start on Sunday because of an injured middle finger on his pitching hand. ... Kubel also made a diving catch to rob Placido Polanco of an extra-base hit in the third inning.