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Willingham helps Twins extend streak to four

Snaps tie with three-run double in seventh; Diamond earns first win

CHICAGO -- It may be early yet, but if the Twins are going to do something to reverse their recent misfortunes against the rival White Sox, their first steps of 2013 have been in the right direction.

Minnesota, 4-14 last season against Chicago, got the biggest hit of the weekend from Josh Willingham in the seventh inning Sunday and another solid starting pitching performance en route to a 5-3 win and a quick series sweep at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Twins have won four in a row overall, are standing above .500 (8-7) on the young season and head back home with first place in the contentious American League Central virtually up for grabs.

"We're having fun with it and I think we're probably taking it a little easier right now and taking it one game at a time and having a little fun with it, too," said starting and winning pitcher Scott Diamond.

"I'd put us up against anybody right now. I think we're playing pretty confidently. As long as we can execute our pitches and continue to work, I think we're gonna be better than everybody thinks we are."

Diamond and White Sox starter Gavin Floyd were both excellent as the two teams combined for just four hits through five innings. But with the game later tied at 2, Willingham delivered the decisive blow that neither team could find for much of the weekend.

After Matt Lindstrom and Donnie Veal loaded the bases and surrendered the tying run in the process, right-hander Jesse Crain was brought in to face the right-handed Willingham. Crain left the first pitch -- an 86-mph slider -- over the plate, and Willingham was ready for it.

"I was looking for something out over the plate and looking to be aggressive," he said. "That was basically it, and I got something over the plate and hit it well."

The hit negated two costly defensive miscues -- one by Willingham, who misplayed Alejandro De Aza's fly ball in the fourth, and the other by Diamond, who threw the ball away on De Aza's drag bunt in the sixth -- that led to Chicago runs. Adam Dunn also homered in the seventh off Josh Roenicke to snap an 0-for-31 skid and cut the lead to 5-3. But Willingham, Diamond and the Twins had done enough damage by then. Glen Perkins recorded his second save in as many days and fifth of the year.

"It wasn't anything special. Nothing we aren't used to," White Sox outfielder Dewayne Wise said of Diamond. "To the lefties, I know he was throwing the cutter away. Every once in a while he would come inside with a changeup or curve ball. But for the most part, he just pitched on both sides of the plate and this kept us off balance all day."

Diamond, who scattered two runs (one earned) and four hits over six innings while striking out five, is now 6-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 11 career road starts with in the division. Eight of the 11 have been quality starts. He did so on Sunday with extended rest because of a handful of rainouts this week.

"Eight days is a little long," Diamond said. "It kinda takes me back to my college days a little bit. But it's really no excuse. I was able to throw a couple bullpens during the time and was able to get work in."

It all led to Minnesota's first series victory at U.S. Cellular Field since July 7-10, 2011. The two teams split the season series that year after the Twins went a combined 25-11 against the Sox in the AL Central title years of 2009 and 2010.

"It's only two games," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If this was August and we had a lead on these guys, I'd love it. But it's early. We've seen a lot of things happen at this ballpark. We've had some success, but we've also been whacked here pretty good."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.
Read More: Minnesota Twins, Aaron Hicks, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Scott Diamond