The suddenly powerful Twins continued blasting home runs Saturday night, a development so contagious that even Joe Mauer is joining in. They unleashed a barrage of home runs off Tigers pitching for the third day in a row, each blast more prodigious than the one before it.
The Tigers can’t say the same, managing only six hits on the night. But raw power isn’t always decisive, as the Twins showed in a 7-5 loss that ended a four-game winning streak, with their rockets eclipsed by Detroit’s willingness to watch and wait. And occasionally duck.
Mauer, Tyler Austin, Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver all homered, but only the last of them came with a runner on base. Detroit, meanwhile, fueled a pair of three-run rallies with free baserunners, before detonating the innings with extra-base hits. The combination ruined Kohl Stewart’s second big-league start, and illustrated the minefield a pitcher who doesn’t rack up strikeouts must tiptoe through.
“You just can’t fall behind guys like that, can’t walk guys. I’ve got to give my team a better chance to win,” said Stewart, who threw only six first-pitch strikes to 16 batters. “It was not acceptable.”
Still, Stewart is likely to receive another start, Paul Molitor said, despite his 7.71 ERA. The Twins manager met with his rookie starter after the game with a message: Calm down.
“It’s not so much what you’re throwing. What are you feeling?” Molitor said after his team had its seven-game home winning streak end. “You’ve got to really be able to seize the moment in terms of controlling your emotions and do what you do.”
Nobody does what they do like Mauer, who has rebounded from a lackluster road trip to go 8-for-17 on this homestand, including two home runs. His first-inning launch into the right-field seats, on his first swing of the bat since Friday’s pinch-hit home run, was the first leadoff homer of his career, and marked only the second time time (after a 2009 game vs. John Lackey in Anaheim) in which he homered in back-to-back plate appearances.
His manager that night was in the Detroit dugout Saturday. “I always thought about how much the other team must worry when he comes to the plate in big situations. Right now, he’s driving the baseball,” Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s just a great hitter. You just know when he comes up, something’s going to get hit, and probably pretty hard. You just hope you have the right people in the right place.”
The Tigers did in the eighth inning — barely. With a runner on and the Twins down two after Garver’s two-run homer, Mauer battled Detroit reliever Joe Jimenez for a dozen pitches, finally driving a fastball clocked at 96 miles per hour to the warning track in front of the bullpens.
“He really had an outstanding night,” Molitor said of Mauer, who had three hits in all.
But it wasn’t enough, mostly because of free bases. Tyler Duffey hit a batter and missed a chance at a double play, which cost him when Mikie Mahtook hooked a curveball into the seats for a tiebreaking three-run homer in the fifth inning.
And Stewart couldn’t stop shaking his head over his third inning, when he loaded the bases on an infield hit and two walks, then got two strikes on Mahtook. One good pitch would have ended the threat, but instead, Stewart hit Mahtook with a fastball, setting up Ronny Rodriguez’s two-run double.
“That can’t happen. That’s a miss by 3 feet with my best pitch,” Stewart said. “If I execute one pitch — that’s the kind of thing that keeps you up at night.”