DETROIT – It was a laborious Labor Day for Twins hitters for most of the afternoon, as they sputtered with runners in scoring position and were perilously close to dropping Monday’s game and splitting a four-game series to a Tigers team that will lose 100-something games this season.
But Max Kepler singled off Matt Hall with two out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, driving in two runs that pushed the Twins to a 4-3 victory. They won a four-game series for the sixth time in 11 tries, which isn’t easy to do. The Twins’ two losses in four-game series have been at home, to Toronto and Cleveland. That might not be that odd, since the Twins lead the majors with 46 road victories.
“It almost feels like four days is a little too long to be playing one team in a lot of ways,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “but we’ve done that and played well on the road, and we’ve done a lot of things and given ourselves a chance to just continue to win games. This is a good example.”
Down 3-2 in the eighth and facing Detroit righthander Buck Farmer, the Twins got a leadoff walk from pinch hitter LaMonte Wade Jr. — a big spot for a player making only his sixth major league plate appearance. Luis Arraez followed with a sharp single to center. Farmer rallied to strike out C.J. Cron and Jake Cave but gave up an infield single to Ehire Adrianza to load the bases.
With Kepler coming to the plate, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire went to lefthander Matt Hall, an interesting move considering that Kepler is batting better against lefties (.296) than righties (.242). And Kepler expertly stroked Hall’s 2-1 pitch to left-center, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs.
“It wouldn’t have happened if any of the three guys before me hadn’t put together good at-bats and got on,” Kepler said. “So it’s collective. They supplied energy to me. I wasn’t having a great day before that. Had two strikeouts, was trying to battle my way through there. They motivated me once they got on and kind of sparked a good inning. Without them, it wouldn’t have happened.”
And that’s 28 come-from-behind wins for the Twins. Zack Littell (3-0) earned the victory with a scoreless seventh inning. Sergio Romo pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Taylor Rogers followed with a perfect ninth for his 22nd save. The Twins’ lead in the AL Central remained at 5½ games with Cleveland beating the White Sox 11-3 on Monday night.
The magic number, the combination of Twins victories and Cleveland losses that would clinch the division title, dropped to 20.
The exquisite hitting with runners in scoring position from Sunday was not there in the series finale, as the Twins were 2-for-11 in those situations Monday. Eddie Rosario, batting .346 with runners in scoring position, left two men on in both the first and seventh. Tigers righthander Jordan Zimmermann, featuring a sinking fastball he has used more in the past month, held the Twins to two runs in six innings.
Detroit led 1-0 on a Miguel Cabrera homer in the first inning, but Adrianza put the Twins ahead 2-1 in the second with a 428-foot homer off Zimmermann.
Twins righthander Jake Odorizzi carried the lead into the fifth, but he gave up three consecutive singles to start the inning, the third driving in the tying run. The Tigers used a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to take a 3-2 lead, then attempted to hold on from there.
It looked like they might, too. The Twins got the leadoff hitter aboard in the sixth and had two on in the seventh but failed to score each time.
The Twins were scuffling at the plate, until Wade drew the leadoff walk in the eighth and Arraez singled to get things going — two players who weren’t even on the roster at the start of the season.
“They are legit players,” Kepler said. “ It started with effort, and they bring it every day with energy. They can play. It’s just if they can bring the energy, and they have every day so it has been good.”