DETROIT (AP) — Max Kepler homered and drove in three runs for the Minnesota Twins on Friday night. His biggest play of the night came in right field.
In the eighth inning, the Twins led 7-4, but the Detroit Tigers had runners on first and second. Pinch-hitter John Hicks lined a ball to deep right, but Kepler made a leaping catch on the warning track and threw out Nicholas Castellanos at third for an inning-ending double play.
“That saved the game,” said Minnesota centerfielder Byron Buxton, who also made a spectacular defensive play. “He made a great catch and then turned around and got us out of a tough inning.”
Eddie Rosario also homered and drove in three runs as Minnesota picked up its sixth straight win with a 9-4 victory.
“We had a lot of good at-bats, and the defense was big,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It wasn’t a comfortable game, but we got the win.”
Mikie Mahtook homered for Detroit, which has lost six of seven.
Twins starter Kyle Gibson allowed three runs, five hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings, departing one out before he was eligible for the win.
“We’re pretty confident in who we are and what we have in the locker room,” Gibson said. “It might seem like false confidence, but I don’t think that’s it at all.”
Anibal Sanchez (3-3) took the loss, allowing five runs and eight hits in six innings. He struck out six without walking a batter, but all five runs scored on two homers.
“I had good stuff, and even the homers were where I meant to throw the pitches,” he said. “It was two mental mistakes more than anything.”
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the first on Mahtook’s second homer in as many days. It was his eighth homer of the year – one short of his career high – and 20th of his career.
Minnesota got on the board in the fourth. With one out, Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano singled and Rosario followed with a homer into the Tigers’ bullpen – his 15th of the season.
Buxton received applause from the Detroit crowd after his spectacular catch of Miguel Cabrera’s 410-foot line drive. Buxton, running with his back to the plate on a ball measured at 109 mph off the bat, adjusted his route and made a diving catch on the warning track.
“I thought it was going to stay straight, but when I looked back, it was on the other side of my shoulder,” he said. “I just had time to pick the ball back up.”
Kepler made it 5-1 in the fifth, lining a 2-2 sinker into the right-field stands for his 14th homer.
“That was just a great piece of hitting,” Sanchez said. “It was a two-seamer up and in, and he hit it out.”
Jose Iglesias hit an RBI double in the middle of the inning, then scored on Justin Upton’s single to pull the Tigers within 5-3. Ryan Pressly (2-2) replaced Gibson and retired Cabrera to end the inning with runners on the corners.
Brian Dozier’s RBI triple made it 6-3 in the seventh, and he scored on Kepler’s base hit. Upton’s RBI single pulled the Tigers within 7-4 in the bottom of the inning, but Cabrera grounded out to end the inning.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was baffled by Castellanos trying for third with two outs and a three-run deficit only to be thrown out by Kepler.
“I do my best to defend guys, but I can’t defend that,” he said. “It makes no sense to me.”
Castellanos said he misjudged Kepler’s catch.
“I thought I had left too early, so I had to go back and tag up again,” he said. “Obviously, I wouldn’t do it again.”
Minnesota put the game away with two runs off Chad Bell in the ninth.
Twins: LHP Glen Perkins (shoulder) made his first rehab appearance for Double-A Chattanooga on Thursday. He is scheduled to pitch again on Sunday and Monday, and could be activated as soon as next week.
Tigers: RHP Michael Fulmer (finger numbness) threw a short bullpen session without trouble before the game. If he has no ill effects, he could return to the Tigers’ rotation as soon as Monday in Texas. . The Tigers activated OF Alex Presley.
Sanchez was the toughest starter in baseball to homer against in 2013-14, giving up 13 in 308 innings. However, in the last three seasons, he has allowed 80 home runs in 385 2/3 innings.
“Those do so much damage,” Ausmus said. “Look at tonight, where he pitched well, but two mistakes turn into five runs.”
Twins: Jose Berrios (10-5, 3.86) will pitch the second game of the series for Minnesota on Saturday night. Berrios has struggled against the Tigers in two career starts, going 0-1 with a 19.06 ERA.
Tigers: Jordan Zimmermann (7-9, 5.27) pitches for the Tigers on Saturday night. Zimmermann has pitched at least seven innings in his last three starts, but has lost to Minnesota twice this season.
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