Tigers 3, Twins 2, 10 innings
The division leaders were ready for the challenge, in front of a playoff-like crowd.
Craig Monroe’s sharp single down the third-base line in the 10th inning lifted the Tigers to a 3-2 victory on Friday night that increased their lead over the Twins in the AL Central to 9 1/2 games.
“They’re a complete team,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who gushed repeatedly about Minnesota and its 34-9 record since June 8. “That’s one of the reasons why they’ve had such a great run.”
The Tigers (69-33) have been playing well all season, not just for the past two months. Zach Miner stayed even with fellow rookie Francisco Liriano, but was stuck with a no-decision. Liriano tied his career best with 12 strikeouts and allowed only three hits and two runs in eight innings.
“When you’ve got that guy pitching, they’re as good as anybody. I believe that,” Leyland said. “But you know? We’ve got a good team, too. We hung in there and got the win.”
Monroe capped the rally and Todd Jones finished up for his 28th save, preserving a victory for Fernando Rodney (5-3) and pushing the Twins 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees and one game behind the White Sox in the wild-card race.
“Nothing we can do about that,” Liriano said. “Somebody had to win the game.”
Chris Shelton singled off Juan Rincon (3-1) and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Vance Wilson. After Curtis Granderson struck out, Placido Polanco reached on a high-bouncing single to shortstop. Then came the hit by Monroe, who endured cramping in his left quadriceps while running to first and was pulled for pinch-runner Marcus Thames.
The Tigers won seven of nine against the Twins earlier this year, including a three-game sweep in April at home by a combined score of 33-1. Boasting baseball’s best record, they’ve proved they’re not a fluke.
Minnesota’s surge came well after those previous meetings with Detroit. After catching Chicago with a three-game sweep this week, the Twins came home to a packed house.
Liriano’s introduction prompted a boisterous ovation from the 45,478 fans who bought tickets for the first game in this important series.
A leadoff single by Granderson and a four-pitch walk to Polanco put two runners on for Ordonez, who hit a letter-high changeup to the wall in left-center field for a 2-0 lead that quickly calmed the crowd—just the second sellout of the season and the first since the home opener.
“I was trying to keep it down,” Liriano said, “but it stayed up and he hit it hard.”
Liriano didn’t flinch, though, and he went to work on quieting the Tigers’ lineup—pumping fastballs and 90-plus sliders into catcher Joe Mauer’s glove. He gave up only one hit after Ordonez’s drive and walked three in all.
“He’s filthy,” Miner said. “He throws fastballs that look like breaking balls.”
The Twins were given a brief scare in the fourth, when Liriano’s right foot rolled slightly on the dirt during his delivery to Dmitri Young, who struck out three times. He hopped gingerly off the mound, assured his team he was fine and fanned Young with his next pitch.
Liriano was just as dominant in July as he was in June, finishing this month 4-1 in six starts with a 1.51 ERA and three of his four double-digit strikeout performances.
Miner turned in a solid start, too, allowing four hits, two runs and one walk in six innings while striking out four.
Luis Castillo scratched out the first run by walking, stealing second and advancing the last two bases on groundouts. Mauer’s bouncer to second drove him in.
In the third, Jason Bartlett walked, stole second and scored to tie it at 2 on a slapped single to left by Castillo, who was thrown out by Monroe trying to grab a double.
Miner, who made his major league debut in June and won six straight starts up to the All-Star break, gave up 15 hits and 10 runs over his first two second-half outings—lasting a total of 6 2-3 innings and striking out only one.
“Huge. Huge. I pretty much stunk my last two games,” Miner said. “A division rival. Liriano on the mound. I think both of us had something to prove out there.”
Detroit’s Ivan Rodriguez sat out his second straight game with a bruised right thumb. … Nick Punto stretched his career-long hitting streak to 19 games with a double in the sixth for Minnesota. Punto also made a nifty play at third base, backhanding Carlos Guillen’s grounder in the fourth and firing a one-hop throw from foul territory to an outstretched Justin Morneau—who picked it clean with a smooth scoop at first. … Brandon Inge was just as good at third for the Tigers. His highlight was an off-balance pickup of Jason Kubel’s sacrifice bunt attempt, when he straddled the white line, whirled and threw to second for the force out.