DETROIT (AP) — The only thing more improbable than the Minnesota Twins still being in the wild-card race might be the guy who is keeping them there.
Rookie Tyler Duffey improved to 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in a 6-2 win over the Detroit Tigers Saturday night, helping the Twins keep pace with Houston, which also won and is 1 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota for the second AL wild-card spot.
Duffey, who made his major league debut on Aug. 5, allowed two runs on eight hits and one walk in six innings.
“I felt great out there tonight,” he said. “I wasn’t at my best, but I kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win. That’s the most important thing.”
Duffey has now thrown a career-high 189 2-3 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors, including 51 2-3 in a pennant race. That wasn’t the plan, but he hasn’t allowed the Twins to shut him down.
After getting beat up by Toronto in his debut, he is undefeated in eight starts with a 2.17 ERA.
“I know we’ve been relying on Tyler a lot in the last month, but he keeps doing the job,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “We know where he is in terms of innings for the season, so we are always checking with him, but he keeps telling us he will be fine.”
The Twins blew a late lead Friday night and couldn’t risk falling further behind in the wild-card race.
“I’m not going to say this was a must-win game, but we definitely needed it,” Molitor said. “The days are dwindling, and the last thing we can afford is to give another one away.”
Tigers general manager Al Avila announced before the game that Brad Ausmus will return as the team’s manager in 2016. Ausmus’ future had been considered in doubt with the four-time defending AL Central champs falling into the division basement.
Hours later, the Tigers clinched their first losing season since 2008 and were mathematically eliminated from postseason play. Ausmus knows that won’t be good enough next year — the last on his three-year deal.
“Quite frankly, we expect to win,” he said when asked about 2016. “Our goal is the same — win a world championship.”
Minnesota took a 1-0 lead when Brian Dozier led off with a double, took third on Joe Mauer’s single and scored on Dixon Machado’s fielding error.
The Twins doubled the lead in the third on Escobar’s triple and Dozier’s sacrifice fly, but the Tigers tied it in the fourth.
Miguel Cabrera led off with a single and moved to third on J.D. Martinez’s one-out double. Nick Castellanos made it 2-1 with an RBI double, and James McCann singled to bring Martinez home.
Minnesota went back in front in the seventh on a rally started when former Tiger Torii Hunter walked with one out. Aaron Hicks and Kurt Suzuki followed with singles, the latter bringing home Hunter. Hicks stole third to put runners on the corners, and Escobar beat out a 3-6-3 double-play attempt, allowing Hicks to score Minnesota’s fourth run.
The Twins added two insurance runs in the ninth on Escobar’s 12th homer.
For the second time in as many nights, a fan had to be helped by paramedics after being hit by a foul ball. This time, it appeared to be a male who was hit by a Castellanos liner over the end of the Tigers dugout. After lengthy treatment at his seat, he was able to walk up to the concourse under his own power.
Twins: Trevor May, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 19 due to a back problem, came in for the eighth inning. During May’s absence, Twins manager Paul Molitor was forced to use Glen Perkins, who is also bothered by back problems, in the late innings with poor results.
Tigers: Ausmus said he does not expect SS Jose Iglesias (broken finger) to play again this season. Iglesias, a first-time All-Star this year who hasn’t played since the injury on Sept. 3, would finish the season with a .300 batting average.
The teams finish their three-game series Sunday in Detroit’s last home game of the season. Minnesota’s Ervin Santana (6-4, 4.31) is scheduled to face Randy Wolf (0-4, 5.91). The 39-year-old Wolf, who is making his seventh start for the Tigers, has just one win in 10 starts since 2012.
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