The Twins’ feel-good week continued Saturday afternoon, even if their winning streak didn’t.
Minnesota’s four-game spree of domination came to an end under a four-pack of Detroit home runs, including John Hicks’ tie-breaking liner in the ninth inning. But the 5-3 loss in the first game of a doubleheader seemed to carry as many encouraging signs for the Twins than the Tigers. Among the lessons banked by the losers:
— Home runs are still the weapons of winners. Detroit cracked four solo home runs, two tape-measure blasts by shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, another by DH Brandon Dixon, and with the score tied in the ninth inning, a liner into the left-field flower pots by John Hicks. Those four skinny runs were enough to snap the Tigers’ five-game losing streak to Minnesota. But Detroit is last in the AL in home runs, with fewer than half as many as Minnesota, so the Twins undoubtedly don’t mind engaging in Home Run Derby most days.
— Be careful what you wish for. Speaking of home runs, the Tigers could have prevented the Twins’ first long ball just by doing nothing. But when Jason Castro was awarded first base in the sixth inning for a two-out pitch that struck the handle of his bat, and not his right hand, Detroit’s acting manager, Steve Liddle, asked the umpires to check the replay.
His challenge was upheld, but any satisfaction belonged to Castro. Two pitches later, he pounded a fastball into the right field seats, Castro’s fifth home run of the season.
— The power can come from anywhere, any time. Castro’s shot cut Detroit’s lead to 3-2, and two innings later, C.J. Cron crushed a Joe Jimenez pitch over the wall in right-center, tying the game with his eighth homer of the year. It’s the third time this year that Cron has homered when the Twins trailed, and all three tied the game or put the Twins ahead.
— Big Mike is starting to live up to his name. Pineda, 2-4, who started a Twins loss for the fifth straight game, nevertheless turned in his most impressive outing yet. He allowed only six hits and three runs over six innings, numbers that come closer than ever to the pitcher the Twins hoped he would become. Yes, three home runs is a lot — his total of 10 is tied for the third-most in the AL, actually — but Pineda made them hurt less by keeping runners off the bases ahead of them. With zero walks, Pineda continued a terrific trend: In the past 29 innings, Twins starters have combined to walk just one batter, while striking out 30.
— The bullpen is better, but not perfect. Ryne Harper extracted Pineda from a jam in the seventh, and Trevor May kept the Tigers quiet in the eight, extending the bullpen’s streak of scoreless innings to 13. But Trevor Hildenberger allowed three hits in the ninth, including Hicks’ home run and a two-out RBI single by Christin Stewart.
— Gardy is still entertaining! Former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tangled with a longtime antagonist Hunter Wendelstedt, and the results must have seemed nostalgic to Twins fans. Gardenhire came out to complain about Wendelstedt’s strike zone, grew animated as the conversation continued, and was ejected for the 79th time in his career, and the sixth time by Wendelstedt.