DETROIT – Last week of the season. Seven games to go. And the Twins are hanging around the wild-card race.
They need to make a run, but they are still within range.
"Hey, the chance is right there," righthander Ervin Santana said. "We just have to take advantage of it. Every series, every game counts. We can't worry about other teams. We have to worry about us."
The Twins on Sunday downed the Tigers 7-1 to win the three-game series and set up a meaty four-game collision at Cleveland. Santana pitched seven strong innings and Byron Buxton hit his first major league home run.
The Twins remained 1½ games behind Houston for the second wild-card spot. The Angels are a game ahead of the Twins. Cleveland is 2½ behind the Twins and will be making its final stand.
Baseball history gushes with stories of late-season surges and collapses. The Twins are looking to get hot right when the Astros and Angels go cold, in Minnesota's return to competitive baseball after four consecutive seasons of 90-plus losses.
"Every time we've needed to win, we have," reliever Glen Perkins said. "It's been fun, it has been awesome. But we aren't going to be happy if we don't make it, because we're this close.
"We start by winning [Monday]. We need to win like five games to get ourselves in a good position. Like I said, when we have needed to win we have gotten it done."
They didn't have to sweat out Sunday much, pouncing on a fielding error by Nick Castellanos during a six-run second inning against veteran lefthander Randy Wolf.
Eduardo Nunez led off the second with a single to left, then Eduardo Escobar sent a routine grounder to third that Castellanos butchered — Detroit's fifth error of the series.
Suzuki got the ball rolling with an RBI single. Buxton, getting a start as Eddie Rosario got a day off, came through with an RBI double as the Twins took a 2-0 lead.
Brian Dozier slapped a two-run double into the left field corner to push the lead to 4-0. Aaron Hicks knocked in Dozier with a single. Two outs later, Torii Hunter's RBI single drove in Hicks for a 6-0 lead as Wolf was sent to the showers. The Twins sent 11 batters to the plate in the in the second, with the first six reaching base.
"It was good to see us attack Wolf," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "A lot of good at-bats. A lot of balls hit hard."
Santana worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first inning, then found a groove. In seven innings, he gave up one run — on a Josh Wilson RBI double in the seventh — on six hits. He walked two and struck out five. Over his past six starts, Santana is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA.
Buxton made it 7-1 in the eighth when he stepped in against Jose Valdez and hit a fastball thrown at 96 miles per hour into the seats in left. It took 129 plate appearances for Buxton to homer, and the Twins celebrated by giving him the cold shoulder when he returned to the dugout. Buxton slapped whatever he could, then sought out Escobar and hugged him.
"We tried to give him the silent treatment," Hunter said. "He started slapping us across the head anyway."
The laughs were just beginning, as it was the annual rookie dress-up trip. Twins rookies boarded the plane to Cleveland wearing singlets as the veterans hooted at them.
Appropriate attire? Because it's time for the Twins to wrestle to the finish, pass two teams and have a second season.
"I like our chances," Hunter said. "We have a chance, and that's all that matters."