The Twins thought they had a choice. Actually, all they had was a trap.
With Miguel Cabrera at the plate in a scoreless game, with two outs and first base open, Ron Gardenhire weighed his options and made a perfectly sane, reasonable decision: Avoid the Triple Crown winner who kills his starter. Pitch to the lefthanded hitter who has a history of meekness against him.
On paper, perhaps, the right call. But in the batter’s box, it turns out Prince Fielder takes these decisions personally.
Fielder clubbed a Scott Diamond curveball off the right-field wall, driving home the first two of four quick Tigers runs Friday and sending Detroit to a 4-0 victory over the Twins at Target Field.
“We all know how dangerous it is — the guy behind [Cabrera] is a great hitter,” Gardenhire said of Fielder. “One guy’s hitting .400 against lefties, the next guy’s hitting .370. Scottie had good numbers against Fielder, but he’s so dangerous, he’s so strong. He leaves a curveball up and [Fielder] bangs it against the wall out there.”
Fielder stepped into the batter's box 2-for-16 against Diamond. But it turns out, the more relevant statistic was this one: Walking Cabrera to get to Fielder makes the cleanup hitter really angry. In his last 21 plate appearances when Fielder steps in behind a Cabrera walk, he is 12-for-19 with 16 RBI. The choice, in other words: Pitch to Cabrera, who leads the league in hitting with runners in scoring position, or pitch to a guy hitting .632 after a walk.
“I thought I made some decent pitches,” Diamond said. “I knew if I executed, I’d be OK. But he hit a pretty good pitch,” a 2-0 curveball that hung high and inside, allowing Fielder to turn on it.
Two pitches later, Victor Martinez knocked a double over Clete Thomas’ head in center field. And Jhonny Peralta sent the next pitch to the wall in left-center, completing a three-double outburst that spoiled what had been a tremendous performance by Diamond. The lefthander retired 16 of the first 18 hitters he faced and seemed to be cruising.
Not that it would have made much difference, not with the Twins flailing at Rick Porcello’s diving fastball. They were limited to three hits for the second night in a row and have scored only nine runs in the first four games of this homestand.
“We just didn’t do much offensively,” Gardenhire shrugged. “Porcello was good. The ball was diving all over the place.”
The veterans in the middle of the batting order were particularly quiet against the Tigers’ starter, with Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau combining to go 1-for-14. The Twins were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
But Detroit was no better against Diamond — until the sixth inning. A one-out walk to Austin Jackson was the real culprit, even after Diamond recovered to retire Torii Hunter on a tap to the mound, because it forced the Twins to make that Cabrera-or-Fielder decision.
Diamond got behind Fielder 2-0, and threw a curveball that hung high in the zone. Fielder bashed it to the right-field fence, a ball that Ryan Doumit judged beyond his range from the moment it was hit. When the throw came into second base, Cabrera sped up around third base and scored behind Jackson.
“The game kind of speeds up on me when I get in trouble, and when I walked Austin Jackson, I could feel it speeding up right there,” Diamond said. “I thought I handled it OK, but then it slipped away again.”