Down 5-2, the Detroit Tigers were comeback cats, scoring three runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to take a 7-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Credited with the win was Joaquin Benoit (1-0), the fourth of five Tigers pitchers. Jose Valverde retired the Twins in order in the ninth to record his fifth save. Jared Burton, the fourth and final pitcher for the Twins, allowed a run in the eighth to be charged with both a blown save and the loss.
Miguel Cabrera led the Tigers' attack, reaching base four times on two walks, an RBI single and a two-run home run. Cabrera drove in three runs on the night, giving him an MLB-leading 56. He's currently on pace for 198 RBI on the season. Prince Fielder added a pair of hits and two RBIs, including the game winner.
Josh Willingham supplied the majority of the Twins' offense in a losing cause, homering twice, driving in four.
Neither starting pitcher would be around for the decision. The bullpens were to be the story of the night. It was the Tigers' relievers who would come up big, allowing just one run and two hits over the final four innings. In 2 1/3 innings, the Twins' bullpen would combine to cough up six hits and four runs. There's your difference in the game.
First pitch was at 8:08 after a one-hour rain delay, the third in less than 24 hours.
Cabrera has been unconscious at the plate all season (damn near his entire career, actually). Tonight was no different against Diamond. The best hitter in the game gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Torii Hunter singled with one out, then rode home on Cabrera's 14th homer of the season and sixth in his last 12 at-bats. The big fly raised his MLB-leading RBI total to 54, an absolutely nuts number considering there are still eight days left in May.
The Twins countered in the top of the second, pulling to within a run by doing Twins-like things. Justin Morneau slapped a double just inside third base, then advanced on Chris Parmelee's single to left. Morneau would score when Jhonny Peralta was unable to cleanly field Brian Dozier's double play ground ball, handcuffed by an in-between hop. The Tigers had to settle for the 6-4 fielder's choice, and the Twins had made it a 2-1 game.
It was more of the Twins being the Twins and Porcello being Porcello in the third. Pedro Florimon led off with a single. With Cabrera playing in to guard against the bunt, Jamey Carroll yanked a single past him. Running on Matt Tuiasosopo, an aggressive Florimon raced to third, Carroll taking second on the throw. The aggressiveness paid off when Joe Mauer went the other way, his RBI single to left tying the game at 2-all. Once again, Cabrera was playing on the edge of infield grass. Florimon would leave the game after scoring, injuring himself on a head-first slide into third.
The fourth consecutive hit to start the inning was the big one. Willingham, hitting .206 on the season, hammered a three-run homer, a no-doubt shot clearing the bullpens in left. His seventh home run of the season gave the Twins the lead at 5-2.
The Twins threatened in the top of the fourth, placing runners on the corners with one out. But this time around the Tigers were able to turn the inning ending 6-4-3 double play.
While the Twins were busy taking the lead, Diamond was doing a Cy Young imitation, having retired eight straight Tigers in order after Tuiasosopo's one -ut single in the second inning.
Peralta continued doing Porcello no favors with his defense. Top of five, his throwing error allowed Willingham to reach second with no one out. The throw was so bad, all Prince Fielder could do was watch the ball fly a good ten feet over his head and into the stands.
A two-out walk and a wild pitch would put a pair of runners into scoring position. Porcello would pitch out the jam, striking out Dozier. That would end Porcello's night after five innings, ten hits, five runs and 102 pitches.
Avisail Garcia would break Diamond's out streak at ten, singling with two out in the fifth. Infante followed with a single, a two-out rally smouldering. Flames began to spark when Hunter worked a full count, then drew a walk, loading the bases for Cabrera. Not a good idea, with Cabrera hitting over .500 this season with runners in scoring position.
Cabrera hit a hard ground ball up the middle, Eduardo Escobar (having replaced the injured Florimon at short) laid out behind the bag to make diving stop. But he had no play, everyone was safe, Cabrera driving in his third run of the night with an infield single. To his credit, Escobar saved a second run from scoring with his grab.
The score now 5-3 and the bases still loaded, Fielder couldn't extend the inning. He took a very hittable 3-0 pitch for strike one, then popped up to third (for the third time).
Darin Downs took over for Porcello in the sixth, allowing a two-out bloop double to the annoying Carroll, before getting Mauer on a 4-3 ground out.
The Tigers kicked up their heels in the bottom half, denying Diamond a quality start, but unable to pull any closer to the Twins.
Peralta singled with one down, and the smoking-hot Brayan Pena followed by yanking a ground ball just inside the third base bag for a double, Perata holding at third. A rally was brewing... but it stopped percolating thanks to a pitching change.
Ron Gardenhire pulled Diamond after 5 2/3 innings, bringing in ex-Tiger Casey Fien to face pinch hitter Andy Dirks with two out and runners in scoring position. Dirks stuck out swinging. The Tigers threaten, but do not score.
The Twins pulled further away from the Tigers in the seventh, stretching their lead to 6-3. Willingham led off the inning by taking a Downs fastball over the bullpens for his second home run of the night and eighth of the season.
Jim Leyland went to the pen with two out, a runner on first and Dozier at the plate. Jose Ortega took over for Downs, striking out Dozier, the damaged contained to a single run.
Once again, the Tigers would threaten. But this time, they would score. Three times in the bottom of the seventh, in fact.
Infante led off with a single. After the Twins pitched around Cabrera, walking him with one out, Fielder came through with a ground ball RBI single up the middle. Infante scored to cut the Twins' lead to to 6-4.
Gardenhire went back to his bullpen, pulling Fein. Brian Duensing took over to face Martinez. The Tigers caught a break, Martinez dropping a Texas Leaguer in front of a diving Aaron Hicks in center. Cabrera crossed the plate, the Twins now clinging to a one run margin at 6-5.
Gardenhire, running out of tricks in his magic bag, made another pitching change. He called on Burton to face Peralta. He continued with his contract-walk-year heroics, lining a game-tying RBI double into the left field corner. Fielder rumbled home to make it a new game at 6-all.
Burton drilled Tuiasosopo on the hand with a pitch, loading the bases for Pena. First pitch swinging, Pena sent a foul pop to third for the second out. Dirks would do the same, the Tigers unable to plate another run with the bases loaded and one out. But they had tied the game at 6-6 on three consecutive RBI hits.
Joaquin Benoit got the ball for the eighth inning, and retired the Twins in order.
Infante reached base for the third time in the bottom of the eighth with a lead-off single. Then Leyland went with some controversial (some would call "dumb") strategy.
Bunts are dumb. They are even dumber when it takes the bat out of the hands of the best hitter in baseball. But Leyland called for a sacrifice bunt anyway, asking a .300 hitter to drop one down. Unlike the last time he was asked to bunt, Hunter was successful. The sacrifice moved Infante to second.
The next move was by the book. Gardenhire, no dummy, walked Cabrera with first base open. Leyland had done a great job of taking Cabrera's bat out of play.
It would be up to Fielder to make the controversial strategy pay off.
Fielder drilled a line drive off the glove of Burton. The ball changed direction, rolling behind a sprawling Dozier at second base and into short right, allowing Infante to cross the plate with the lead run. Fielder had bailed out his skipper.
The Tigers had scored four unanswered runs to take a 7-6 lead.
It was now Potato coaster time. Valverde came on to close out the Twins.
Mauer led off, and hit Valverde's pitch on the screws. But the hard-hit one-hopper was right at Infante, who made the 4-3 put out.
Having already gone yard twice, Papa Grande took on Willingham. Lightning didn't strike a third time, and Willingham would go down swinging for second out.
It was all downhill from there. Morneau struck out on four pitches, waving at a fastball for strike three. The Big Potato did a victory dance as the Tigers had come back from a 5-2 deficit to beat the Twins 7-6.
GAME OVER. What a difference facing a bad team makes, huh?
The 26-19 Tigers have won three straight but remain 1/2 game back of the first place Indians in the Central. Losers of nine consecutive games, the 18-26 Twins continue on their death spiral to the bottom of the standings. They are eight games back of first and solidly in last place in the Central.
In game two of the weekend series, the Twins have called up Samuel Deduno from Triple-A Rochester to make his first start of the season. He'll face Anibal Sanchez (4-4, 2.77 ERA), looking to get back on track after a rough outing in Texas. First pitch is 7:08, weather willing.
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