DETROIT – If this is the payoff, maybe the Twins should put everyone on the injured list this summer. The returns can be triumphant.
Michael Pineda, in his first day back on the active roster, held Detroit to three runs over five innings Friday and stranded three Tigers in scoring position. Mitch Garver, in the starting lineup for just the fourth time since coming off the injured list, smacked a two-run homer and added an RBI single. And Nelson Cruz, activated only three days earlier, broke an eighth-inning tie with a home run of his own.
The wounded-no-more Twins combined to keep their team’s AL Central lead at a healthy 10½ games with a 6-3 victory over the Tigers at Comerica Park. Somebody give that medical staff a raise.
“I had a little bit of rest and I felt very strong tonight. And I used it,” said Pineda, whose knee tendinitis has disappeared. “I took two weeks off, and today I felt great and let it go.”
Oh, there were contributions from some able-bodied Twins, too. Marwin Gonzalez doubled twice and singled twice, his first four-hit game since last year’s playoffs with Houston. C.J. Cron, after an eight-homer May, connected for the first time in June. And Ryne Harper, deprived of his first career victory by a Cleveland rally on Wednesday, earned it for real two days later by striking out the side in the seventh inning.
But against rising Tigers lefthander Matthew Boyd, the Twins received a strong reminder of what they have been missing lately while their injured players healed.
“Coming back from injuries, you’re a little timid with it,” Garver said after hitting hit first home run since May 14, the day he sprained his left ankle on a play at the plate. “I’m still getting there. I’m still not at full speed. But tonight was a good start.”
Same for Pineda, who wasn’t at his best, but he made big pitches when he had to, and for the fourth time in five starts he didn’t issue a walk. “He’s excited to be back out there. His rehab went very well,” manager Rocco Baldelli said of the veteran righthander. “You can tell from the way he’s kind of bouncing around that he’s ready to go.”
Garver went 2-for-13 in his first four appearances since returning, but he was ready when Boyd tried to sneak a high 94-mile-per-hour fastball past him with a full count in the third inning. The sky-high fly ball landed in the Twins bullpen, Garver’s 10th home run of the year.
And when Boyd departed and the Tigers turned to righthander Joe Jimenez, Cruz lifted a 96-mph fastball over the middle of the plate into the front row of seats in right field, his second homer in three starts since returning from a sore left wrist.
The Twins beat Detroit for the fifth time in seven meetings this season, and this one was special to Harper. The AL’s oldest rookie at age 30, he entered in a tie game for the first time all season, and his curveball was sharper than ever.
Harper threw 10 curves in the sixth inning, and got five swing-and-misses with it from Niko Goodrum, Christin Stewart and Nicholas Castellanos — including the third strike on all three.
Once Cruz homered in the next half-inning, and the Twins tacked on two insurance runs and survived tense eighth and ninth innings for Tyler Duffey and Blake Parker, Harper became the winning pitcher for the first time in his career.
“It was awesome. It really means a lot,” Harper said. “I’m just glad we won. I love our team. We’re a lot of fun. So I’m excited.”