DETROIT – By the middle innings Sunday, the Twins were in the Tigers bullpen and on their way to their latest convincing victory.
And Miguel Cabrera, one of the game’s greatest strike zone critics, was letting umpire Brian O’Nora have it so extensively in the fifth inning that Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire — the active MLB leader in ejections — had to engage O’Nora from the top step of the home dugout to keep Cabrera from being tossed. Frayed nerves during a long afternoon at Comerica Park.
The Twins have frustrated teams all season by amassing long drives and forcing opponents to play reliever roulette. Their emphatic 12-2 victory Sunday was no different. Four more home runs not only pushed their major league-leading total to 125, it tied the club record for home runs before the All-Star break, previously set in 1964.
And this year’s All-Star break isn’t for another 29 days.
“We’ve played some difficult games on this trip,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We have played some difficult teams. All these teams, they played us tough. To have one game at the end that was a slightly lower-stress environment, it’s actually nice for our guys, because they have kind of been locked in every game we have played.”
After a 9-3 loss Saturday where the bats struggled, the Twins came back to win two of three from the Tigers and finish their 10-game road trip vs. Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Detroit with a 6-4 record. Sunday’s game was the seventh time this season they have reached double-digit runs.
The trip began well, with three victories in four games against the Rays, and ended well. The one stumble was two of three losses to the second-place Indians. A bullpen collapse Wednesday at Cleveland kept the Twins from winning that series too. They now return for a nine-game homestand after taking care of business.
“We came into today’s game with a chance to have a good winning trip,” Baldelli said. “You get some good positive feelings getting off the road and getting back home.”
Handed a 3-0 lead, Jake Odorizzi walked the first batter he faced Sunday, Niko Goodrum, who then went to third on Christin Stewart’s single. Goodrum then scored on a double-play grounder, ending Odorizzi’s scoreless-inning streak at 16⅓.
But Odorizzi picked it up from there and then some, stifling the Tigers on his way to his ninth victory of the season, pulling him into a tie for the major league lead. In six innings, he gave up one run on five hits and that lone walk while striking out eight. He has an 0.40 ERA over his past four starts, with 32 strikeouts over 22⅓ innings.
He had no problems with O’Nora’s strike zone Sunday. And neither did his teammates.
Jorge Polanco led off the first with a single, then raced home on Mitch Garver’s double. Nelson Cruz fell behind 0-2 against Tigers lefthander Ryan Carpenter but, nine pitches later, Cruz was still alive, having fouled off six pitches. Carpenter threw him a fastball at 91 miles per hour, and Cruz bashed it over the left field fence for a two-run blast — giving Cruz a home run in four consecutive games.
The Twins buried Detroit with a five-run fourth. Miguel Sano began the inning with an opposite-field home run and C.J. Cron capped it with a two-run double. In between, Polanco hit a sacrifice fly and Eddie Rosario added an RBI single.
After the Twins scored a single run in the fifth, Byron Buxton smashed a two-run homer in the sixth and Rosario planted a no-doubter to right in the seventh.
The Twins ended their road trip with a 6-4 record, expanded their lead in the American League Central to 10 1/2 games and currently have a 97.7% chance to make the playoffs, according to FanGraphs.com.
“Overall, the whole lineup, it was very exciting to watch,” Cruz said. “The whole lineup just gave good at-bats and stuck with pitchers.”