MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Mike Pelfrey looked around as he stepped on the mound to appreciate the moment. Less than a year after Tommy John surgery, he was back in a major league game.
Pelfrey pitched into the sixth inning in his Minnesota debut, Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe hit home runs and the Twins took the season-opening series from the Detroit Tigers with an 8-2 victory Thursday.
“If I was a crier, I probably would’ve cried. But I don’t do that too much. I was pretty proud, walking out there,” Pelfrey said. “This is my reward for busting my butt.”
Pelfrey (1-0) did not allow an earned run. The former New York Mets first-round draft pick was given a 3-2 lead when Willingham and Plouffe went deep against Tigers starter Rick Porcello (0-1), and five relievers kept it that way for four innings.
The Twins broke the game open with a five-run eighth against Brayan Villarreal, when Pedro Florimon hit a two-run double and Aaron Hicks added a two-run single for his first major league hit. Tigers relievers gave up 10 runs over 10 innings in these three games.
Miguel Cabrera got another RBI, his fourth of the year, but the Tigers had another quiet afternoon at the plate.
The Tigers had runners at second and third with none out in the seventh after Austin Jackson doubled, Detroit’s first extra-base hit in 21 innings since Torii Hunter’s double in the third inning of Monday’s opener. Cabrera was walked intentionally with one out to load the bases. But Prince Fielder struck out on a checked swing against Tyler Robertson and Victor Martinez popped out against Casey Fien to end the threat.
“I’ll take my chances with that all year long,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Starting pitching is supposed to be Minnesota’s biggest weakness, the primary reason why the Twins lost 195 games the last two years. But Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and Pelfrey allowed five earned runs in 18 1-3 innings in this series, a 2.45 ERA.
“I know the expectations outside the clubhouse aren’t the greatest, but everybody in here, we believe in each other and know what we’re capable of,” Pelfrey said.
The 6-foot-7 Pelfrey was a fixture in the Mets’ rotation for four-plus seasons until the elbow problem popped up. He made three starts last year before undergoing the ligament replacement procedure. So Gardenhire was smiling afterward when describing how he tried to take Pelfrey out after five innings only to be rebuffed.
“I said, ‘I’m not done. I’ve been a horse my whole life. I want to get back to that. I’m going back out,'” Pelfrey said. “He said, ‘OK, I trust you. Go back out.’ So I appreciated the opportunity.”
Dr. James Andrews performed the operation last May 1 in Gulf Breeze, Fla., making Pelfrey’s comeback a little more than 11 months. The right-hander gave up two unearned runs, five hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings, with one strikeout. He trailed 2-0 before the Twins found their power stroke, but even those runs weren’t his fault. Throwing errors by catcher Joe Mauer and the shortstop Florimon led to runs in the first and the third.
“It’s nice knowing that we’re going to have some guys who can get us late in games,” Robertson said.
Porcello didn’t pitch badly, yielding six hits and two walks in 5 1-3 innings while striking out two. But he gave up the lead in the third when Mauer’s two-out single was followed by Willingham’s tying two-run shot into the seats in left-center.
In the fourth, Plouffe hit one even higher and further that clanked off the facade of the second deck above the same spot in the ballpark. Willingham and Plouffe were the top two power hitters for the Twins last year, with 35 and 24 home runs respectively.
“They did all the hitting today. I know it’s early and we don’t want to keep saying that, but we’ll turn it around,” Hunter said.
NOTES: Pelfrey wore No. 34 with the Mets, but that’s retired for Kirby Puckett. He said when he arrived with the Mets he asked for No. 41, which is out of commission in Tom Seaver’s honor. “So I’m 0 for 2,” said Pelfrey, who is wearing No. 37. … The Twins have a winning record for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. “You’re really going to do that?” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the feat was mentioned to him by a reporter. “We’ve played three games.” … The Tigers have their home opener on Friday afternoon against the New York Yankees, with RH Doug Fister scheduled to pitch against RH Ivan Nova. … The Twins are the opponent for Baltimore’s home opener on Friday, with RH Liam Hendriks taking the mound against Orioles RH Jake Arrieta.
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