MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There was almost no point to the Minnesota Twins talking about getting back into the AL Central race while the division-leading Detroit Tigers were beating their brains out every time they took the field.
The Twins finally figured out how to beat these Tigers on Saturday, an important mental hurdle as a 12-game homestand draws to a close.
Scott Baker pitched five scoreless innings and the Twins bullpen came through with four solid innings of relief in a 4-1 victory over the Tigers, snapping Detroit’s 11-game winning streak over Minnesota.
“One win is not exactly where we need to be, but we’re headed in the right direction,” Baker said. “We can compete with those guys. We know that. It’s just a matter of the starting pitching going out there and giving us a chance to win.”
The Tigers had averaged about seven runs per game during their winning streak, which included outscoring the Twins 14-4 in the first two games of this series to push them seven games back in the division.
But Baker’s return sparked a superb all-around game from the pitching staff.
Baker (8-5) allowed three hits and struck out five in his first start since July 5. Anthony Swarzak, Phil Dumatrait and Glen Perkins bridged the gap to Joe Nathan, who picked up his seventh save.
Danny Valencia homered and Delmon Young added a two-run double for the Twins, who had not beaten Detroit since Sept. 1 of last year.
“I like to beat these guys,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We needed a win today. That was big. They’ve played better than us up to this point and we’re still trying to catch them. Today really would have made it tougher on us if we would’ve lost.”
Brad Penny (7-7) gave up four runs and seven hits in seven innings for the Tigers, who got two hits and an RBI from Miguel Cabrera but not much else on offense.
Baker missed his previous two starts with a strained elbow. He was scratched from his final start before the All-Star break, then he gave the team a little surprise last Sunday when he told them he still wasn’t sure if he was ready to get back on the mound.
He didn’t appear to miss a beat in his first game back. Baker breezed through five innings, allowing just one runner past first base as the Twins built a 4-0 lead. The Twins wanted to limit him to 75-80 pitches, so Baker left after five with his pitch count at 82.
“The first inning I felt like maybe I could’ve gone in either direction,” Baker said. “But as the game went on, it was great. It was exactly what I wanted to happen.”
The early exit put more pressure on an already overworked bullpen, but it didn’t matter on this day. Swarzak gave up a run-scoring double to Cabrera in the sixth, but Perkins fanned Magglio Ordonez and Cabrera in the eighth and Nathan stranded one runner at second for the win.
“That’s not going to keep happening,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of his team’s recent dominance in the matchup. “We knew that. That’s a good team over there and they’re playing pretty good right now.”
Penny didn’t look nearly as sharp as Baker, but he twice avoided the big inning to keep the Tigers in striking distance.
Valencia hit his solo homer an estimated 403 feet into the second deck in left field for a 2-0 lead in the second inning and Young had a two-run double in the fourth.
But the Twins left plenty of runs on the bases. They squandered a two-on, nobody-out situation in the third, and Penny got Ben Revere to ground into a double play to limit the fourth inning to just two runs.
“These are games where you can catch back up so we really needed to come out and get a win today,” Young said. “If we come out and win tomorrow, we’re still five back. You don’t want to get back down to nine or something like that.”
NOTES: SS Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who has been struggling mightily at the plate, was the only Twins player to have two hits. … Michael Cuddyer’s RBI single in the first provided the other run for the Twins. … Tigers SS Jhonny Peralta entered the game with a .432 average in 12 career games at Target Field, including five homers and 15 RBIs. He went 2 for 4 with a single and a double on Saturday.
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