DETROIT – There were a lot of ways the Twins could have lost Wednesday. They were facing Anibal Sanchez, a righthander who struck out 17 batters in his last start. They were pitching to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, who had three home runs and seven RBI between them in the first two games of the series. And they were trying to fend off a three-game sweep, something the 2012 Twins had little success doing.
Yet there were the Twins’ first five batters of the game, each taking Sanchez to 3-and-2 and running up his pitch count. And there was Scott Diamond, holding the Tigers without a hit until the fifth inning, and limiting their two sluggers to only one hit. And there were the Twins, stomping out another losing streak before it could get out of control with a 6-2 victory at Comerica Park.
Perhaps they also offered some evidence that they won’t be the soft targets for pennant contenders that last year’s team was, and that losing won’t be contagious, wiping out entire weeks.
“We didn’t want the sweep at all — it’s definitely something I focused on,” said Diamond (2-2) after his strongest start of the year, a six-inning, four-hit effort. “Whether I put a little more pressure on myself to do it, that’s just the way I’ve always been. I just try to be the stopper.”
The Twins haven’t had one of those in awhile, but Diamond and newcomer Kevin Correia provide them with hope that they can avoid those mood-killing, morale-sucking, bottomless skids that so marked their past two seasons. For the second consecutive series, the Twins lost a couple of games to an elite team, but refused to get swept away. Last year, however, the Twins dropped the first two games of a three-game series 13 times, then went 2-11 in games trying to avoid the sweep.
This game definitely never felt hopeless like that, and Diamond said he’s noticed a better vibe since the team left training camp.
“The atmosphere in the clubhouse is a lot different than it was last year, and because of that, we’re going to be able to prevent losing streaks,” the lefthander said. “It actually feels more positive. Even when we lose a couple of games — like that Texas series [last weekend] — everybody stayed really positive, and we were really still pulling for each other. Nobody started swinging for home runs, nobody was trying to strike out every batter. We’re relying on what’s going to make us win — our defense and moving runners.”
They had both Wednesday, with Diamond himself making a couple of nice stops and Jamey Carroll turning a hot smash to third into a ninth-inning double play. Meanwhile, the Twins went 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position, got hits from seven spots in the batting order and a cannon-shot home run by Chris Parmelee, created a couple of timely insurance runs when Detroit closed within a run and improved to 7-6 against last year’s playoff teams.
No, they’re not ready to join baseball’s elite yet, but consider this: The Twins were 19-32 against those playoff teams a year ago, and were swept four times.
After 195 losses over two seasons, a disaster-averse .500 team is a welcome sight.
“We kind of nitpick at them a little bit,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, but it’s working so far. The Twins haven’t really hit yet — they’re last or next-to-last among American League teams in runs, hits, home runs and stolen bases — and two of the pitchers they are counting on to stabilize the rotation haven’t done it yet, either.
Yet the Twins, entering their second month of the season, continue to cling to a .500 record, with confidence that their success will rise with the temperature. They’re 12-12? Last year, it was 6-18.
“We’ve got enough firepower in here, both from an offensive and pitching standpoint, to curb those long losing streaks,” catcher Ryan Doumit said. “We don’t go into panic mode after a two-game slide. We won’t accept it. We won’t tolerate it.”