DETROIT – Each homer traveled a little farther on Thursday, until Robbie Grossman’s clout just inside the foul pole was beginning to look a little puny by comparison.
“Hey, every one counts,” Grossman pointed out, and he’s right. All three Twins home runs had the identical effect: They helped move the Twins’ two-game losing streak — and any lingering memories of their 0-9 start to 2016 — a little further away.
Grossman, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano all hammered pitches into the Comerica Park seats, and Minnesota salvaged a split of its six-game road trip with an 11-5 rout of the Tigers. After nine games last year, the Twins were still winless; this year, they are back in first place in the American League Central and coming home for a 10-game homestand with a 6-3 record.
“It’s a nice bounce-back,” manager Paul Molitor said of the Twins’ response to close losses Tuesday and Wednesday. “Last year, I don’t know how many sweeps we had to endure” — there were 16 — “but to avoid one here early against a team we’ve struggled with, it’s a good sign.”
Good signs abounded in this one, from the way the Twins were able to be patient against Jordan Zimmermann, to Kepler and Grossman flashing a little power, to Phil Hughes’ second straight heartening start. And don’t forget the bottom of the order, where Byron Buxton ended his 0-for-11 skid by beating out a bunt and moving up two more bases, all with his speed.
But an offensive explosion, after scoring four or fewer runs in five consecutive games, was particularly welcome, as was the end to a three-losses-in-four-games rut. There was cheering and loud music in the clubhouse afterward, a decibel level that had been lacking this week after the can-you-believe-it 4-0 start.
“We’ll certainly take the win, especially after the way we lost the first couple of games. Coming to this city and getting swept after our good start, maybe guys start doubting things,” said Hughes, who came within an out of a quality start. “So coming back with a big win here was nice for the club.”
With the Twins trailing 2-0 after two innings, Grossman smacked a two-run shot just inside the foul pole in the third inning to tie the score. Kepler greeted reliever Anibal Sanchez by rocketing a three-run shot 15 runs deep into the right field stands in the fifth, and Sano absolutely obliterated a Sanchez fastball into the center field shrubbery in the sixth, a three-run, 440-foot blast that completed the Twins’ first 10-run eruption since last Sept. 4.
“With this lineup, we have a chance to compete very well offensively. Miguel’s been good from Day 1 [while] Max has been hot and cold, but you’d like to think a day like today might springboard him,” Molitor said. “We’re going to have to grow through [some slumps], but they showed you what they can do when they swing the bats well.”
And when Hughes is locating his pitches. The veteran righthander allowed four runs over 5 ⅔ innings, and helped earn Justin Haley, who handled the remaining 3 ⅓ innings, his first career save. After allowing single runs in the first and second, Hughes shut down the Tigers for three innings. He had a runner on base and two outs in the sixth with only Justin Upton standing between him and his first quality start since last May 22. But Upton crushed a changeup into the seats, cutting the Twins’ lead to 11-4 and scuffing up Hughes’ pitching line.
“Kind of a bummer. One out away from my line looking really good, to not that great,” Hughes said of the start that inflated his ERA to 3.86. “That’s the way it goes.”
If it goes that way, the Twins will certainly take it.