DETROIT – Now we know what it takes for the Twins to be less rigid about protecting young arms: Have the season on the line and a rookie on a roll.
Tyler Duffey’s veteran-like performance, plus a few timely late-inning hits, sent the Twins to a 6-2 victory over Detroit on Saturday night, one that ended a two-game skid and kept their deficit in the battle for the second wild card to 1½ games behind Houston and one game behind the Los Angeles Angels.
One night earlier, the Twins were fretting over their latest loss-that-should-have-been-a-win, when a three-run lead evaporated late against their best relievers. Saturday, they rejoiced in their ability to forget.
A pitcher can be responsible for such a mood swing. In six innings, Duffey gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out three. For the second time in a week, the 24-year-old rookie righthander helped end a losing streak.
“It was fun,” Duffey said of being in the moment. “It is everything you dream about. Giving your team a chance to win, and these are big games. If you don’t like this, you shouldn’t be playing.”
While the Twins warned everyone earlier this month that Duffey’s days could be numbered because of his career-high innings pitched, he has posted a 1.73 ERA over his past four outings. While they worried about his durability, he has walked five and struck out 25 over the same timeframe. And while they have watched for signs of fatigue, Duffey (5-1) has faced 140 batters since giving up his last home run.
“What he has shown us so far has been impressive in being able to give us an opportunity when we really need wins,” manager Paul Molitor said.
The Twins came through with two runs in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie. Kurt Suzuki grounded a single to left off Tigers starter Alfredo Simon (13-11), enabling Torii Hunter to score the go-ahead run.
Suzuki was 3-for-4, and the catcher also pounced on two bunts and fielded them cleanly for outs. He is showing no signs of wearing down, but a playoff push does that to a guy.
“That definitely gives you a little burst of energy,” he said.
After Suzuki’s single, Aaron Hicks stole third, and that proved critical when Eduardo Escobar beat out a potential double-play grounder, scoring Hicks to give the Twins a two-run lead.
Escobar returned in the ninth inning to belt a two-run homer, his 12th home run of the season. He also tripled in the third inning before scoring on a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 Twins lead.
Duffey faced the Tigers on Sept. 14, pitching 6⅓ innings. Saturday was the first time he had faced the same major league team twice, so the intrigue was whether the Tigers would be more effective now that they have seen all the different speeds and shapes of his curveball.
Detroit had slightly better luck the second time around, making him work for outs while running up his pitch count. The Tigers tied the score with four hits in the fourth: Nick Castellanos drove in Miguel Cabrera with a double, and James McCann followed with a single that scored J.D. Martinez.
Was it a sign that Duffey was wavering? No. After pitching out of that jam, he gave up a shift-defying single to Miguel Cabrera in the fifth and a leadoff walk to Martinez in the sixth, but Duffey got out of both innings unscathed.
“We all know this was a huge game for us to come back in,” Molitor said, “and [Duffey] was a huge part of it.”
Duffey finished with a career-high 112 pitches, then handed the ball off to Blaine Boyer, Trevor May and Kevin Kepsen. May, making his first appearance in a week as he battles back spasms, gave up two singles, but he also struck out Cabrera and Martinez before escaping the eighth inning by retiring Castellanos on a line drive to right.