The Twins realized there probably would be a celebration at Target Field during this series with Detroit. Even without champagne, they enjoyed the party a lot more than they expected.
Brian Dozier launched a Joaquin Benoit fastball into the Tigers bullpen to tie the score in the ninth inning Monday night, then raced home with the winning run on a Josmil Pinto single in the 11th, and the Twins kept Detroit from clinching at least a tie for the American League Central crown with a dramatic 4-3 victory.
“It was good to see them smile,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ve been going through some tough times, and we needed this.”
The Tigers appeared ready to reduce their magic number to 1 with a victory after holding the Twins to 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position through the first seven innings, especially with Justin Verlander at his best. But the Twins rallied from a 3-0 deficit behind a two-run eighth, with Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Doumit providing RBI doubles.
And when Dozier batted in the ninth, after taking three called third strikes in the game, he was happy to just be swinging the bat. “I got ahead first pitch, and then he came in with a fastball,” said Dozier, the Twins’ home-run leader with 18 this season. “Got a pretty good swing on it.”
Given new life, the Twins finished the job in the 11th. Dozier led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and beat Torii Hunter’s way-high throw to the plate after Pinto’s single to right.
Hunter was playing shallow, and Pinto hit the ball sharply. What was Gardenhire thinking as Dozier rounded third? “Throw a grenade, Torii,” Gardnehire said with a smile of his former star outfielder. “He’s got a good arm, but for once, he threw the ball offline,” allowing the run to score.
Verlander didn’t accomplish his No. 1 goal on Monday: To reduce the Tigers’ magic number in the AL Central race to 1. But the Tigers righthander still accomplished something the Twins never do.
Ten of the first 11 outs Verlander recorded came on strikeouts, the third time this season an 27th in his career he has reached double digits. OK, that’s not a difficult feat this year; it was the 60th time this year that the Twins have struck out 10 times or more.
But while Verlander surpassed 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive season, achieving the mark with a second-inning whiff of Eduardo Escobar on a chin-high 97-mph fastball, he was also illustrating Twins pitchers’ inability to record their own strikeouts. Only Kevin Correia has reached even 100 for the Twins this year — exactly 100 at the moment — while Max Scherzer has long ago reached that mark for the Tigers, and Anibal Sanchez figures to do so during his next start.
It was also the eighth time this season that Verlander has whiffed eight or more batters in a game — something that no Twins pitcher has done even once this year. Unless someone gets hot over the final six games, the Twins will become the first team in three decades, since the 1983 Kansas City Royals, to have no pitchers with more than seven strikeouts in a game.
Mike Pelfrey, pitching with the flu bug, provided a strong start for a change, allowing the league’s second-highest-scoring team only one run in six innings.
Pelfrey left trailing 1-0, of course, after the Twins went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position while he was in the game. Hunter gave Detroit the lead with a ground-rule double in the fifth, the Tigers’ lone extra-base hit off Pelfrey.
In lasting that long, Pelfrey passed 150 innings on the season, earning him a bonus of $100,000 on top of his base salary of $4 million for the year.