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HUNTER DELIVERS A LOUD MESSAGE

As if the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox haven't been close enough in the standings most of the year, Twins center fielder Torii Hunter brought the division rivalry up close and very personal Monday night when he leveled Chicago catcher Jamie Burke on a play at the plate in the eighth inning.

Whether it was the "message" White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said it was, or the unfortunate result of "just playing the game" that Hunter said it was, the play during the Twins' 6-2 victory at sold-out U.S. Cellular Field was definitely this:

"What the second half is all about," Twins catcher Henry Blanco said. "This is what two teams playing for first place got to do to win a game."

After having their way with the White Sox for much of the past three seasons, the Twins entered their first meeting with the Sox since July 1 having lost seven of their past eight against them this season, yet with a half-game lead in the American League Central Division.

"We're fighting for first place, and we've got to do what we've got to do to keep it," said Blanco, whose two-run homer in the fourth inning gave the Twins a 4-1 lead, and who hit the fly ball to shallow right field that sent Hunter charging home -- and sent the emotional level of this season series to another level with eight games left.

"The next two games coming up I think are going to be very good," Blanco said.

Burke probably will be out at least tonight after going to the hospital with blurred vision and headaches. "That's not what I want to hear. I hate that," said Hunter. "I had to do what I had to do to touch that plate. I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I was playing the game."

Pettitte hurting as D'backs end streak

HOUSTON -- Andy Pettitte left after only 62 pitches, his elbow aching again.

The Arizona Diamondbacks ended their club-record losing streak at 14 games, beating Pettitte and the Houston Astros, 4-1.

"It's been stressful. We're major leaguers and we don't like being embarrassed," Luis Gonzalez said. "We all made mistakes and we all shared in the frustration."

Pettitte (6-4) came out after the fifth inning because of his troublesome left elbow, which has sent him to the disabled list twice this season. He has been limited to just 13 starts with Houston this season.

"I aggravated it again a little bit," Pettitte said. "It's the same thing, the flexor tendon in my elbow, but it's not as bad as it was before."

Martinez masters O's

BALTIMORE -- Pedro Martinez (11-4) came in 0-2 with a 8.66 ERA in three starts against Baltimore. He is now 7-1 in his last 12 starts, his only loss during that stretch coming last Wednesday against the Orioles, when he was touched for eight runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings.

The Boston Red Sox made it easy for Martinez as Jason Varitek singled in two runs to cap a six-run third inning, and the Red Sox got 13 hits in a 12-5 blowout.

"I just tried to be aggressive. It's not like I did the best job," Martinez said. "You just go right after them and try to make things happen."

Around the horn

Tony Batista had four hits and a career-high six RBIs to help the Expos extend their season-high winning streak to five with a 19-10 win over the Mets. The Expos' biggest win ever was a 21-9 victory in Colorado on April 28, 1996. It is the eighth time Montreal has scored 19 runs in a game. . . . Jaret Wright and four Atlanta relievers shut down the Pirates in a 4-2 Braves victory keyed by two hits from Johnny Estrada. Losing pitcher Kris Benson (8-8) is expected to be dealt by the Pirates by Saturday's deadline for trading without waivers. . . . Jeff Conine sparked a struggling offense with a three-run double, A.J. Burnett survived five rocky innings and the Marlins beat the Phillies, 11-3. . . . Matt Clement won for the first time since June 8 and Mark Grudzielanek had three hits and two RBIs in the Cubs' 3-1 win over the Brewers. Russell Branyan, acquired by the Brewers from the Indians on Sunday, pinch-hit in the seventh inning and struck out. . . . Tony Womack singled with the bases loaded in the 11th inning Monday night, sparking a four-run rally that sent the Cardinals to a 9-6 win over the fading Reds. . . . Milton Bradley broke out of a slump with three hits and three RBIs and the Dodgers beat the Rockies, 9-7.

Mike Maroth pitched seven soggy innings and the Tigers got home runs from Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames in a 13-4 victory over the Indians. . . . Michael Young hit a leadoff homer and Gary Matthews Jr. added a three-run shot to lead the Rangers to a 6-1 victory over the Angels. . . . Eric Byrnes had a three-run double and four RBIs, and the Athletics bailed out starter Barry Zito by rallying from five runs down to beat the Mariners, 14-5.

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