Minneapolis — First came the flaming hoops.
Then the hurdles, chutes, and cones they had to weave around.
But after getting clobbered in the first two games at Target Field, the Tigers made it through all the remaining obstacles and eventually received a treat at the finish line: a four-game split with the Minnesota Twins.
“If a split can feel like a good series, this is the one that does,” Ian Kinsler said.
What a difficult course it was, though, one which ended with Sunday’s 13-4 victory that proved you can win without Miguel Cabrera, as long as you have Victor Martinez.
It was Martinez, on a day that Cabrera sat out because of a sore right ankle, who drove in four of the Tigers’ first seven runs — when the outcome could have gone either way.
Two of the runs were the result of his 25th home run, tying a career high.
It wasn’t until the Tigers climbed to six, on Rajai Davis’ two-run home run in the seventh, though, that the Tigers could feel — if they dared to — somewhat secure.
They certainly didn’t feel safe up by four in the sixth when the Twins loaded the bases with one out.
One more single and the four-run lead would have been two.
One more extra-base hit by the Twins and the Tigers’ lead would have been less than that.
And a ball landing in fair-territory seats, of course, would have tied it.
But instead of a door opening, one was closed when Brian Dozier flied out to shallow left for the second out and Phil Coke doused the last flickering flame by striking out Joe Mauer on a high heater.
And with that went the last chance the Twins had of adding a third victory to their 20-6 and 12-4 triumphs in the first two games of the series.
“It hurt to lose those games that way,” Martinez said. “All you can do is keep grinding.”
It was an archetypal valley-and-peak series for the Tigers, though, one that began with the embarrassment of how they played Friday night, and of how it continued with a young starter (Buck Farmer) taking his lumps in Saturday’s opener.
“We knew anything could happen in those games,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
But it ended with Justin Verlander returning triumphant in Saturday’s second game from his sore-shoulder scare, and with Max Scherzer winning his 15th game Sunday without being Scherzer-esque.
In five innings (before a pitch count of 112 kept him from continuing), Scherzer allowed three runs on seven hits — with a walk and four strikeouts as well.
“It was one of those days he had to fight through,” Ausmus said. “But the really good pitchers find a way.”
Or as Scherzer put it: “We were able to lick our wounds and get a split. I never let it spiral out of control.”
Scherzer was good enough to qualify for a win and to leave with a lead — while keeping another 20-win season in play.
To a great extent, however, his chances of winning 20 depend on how the Tigers hit — but if how they hit from now on resembles how they hit against the Twins (which they’d enjoy doing, but probably recognize as a reach), they’ll be in fine shape.
For instance, the Tigers’ 60 hits were the most they’ve had in a four-game series since 60 in a 1956 series against the Chicago White Sox (which, with a 14-0 Tigers’ loss, also began badly).
Sixty hits also set a Twins’ record for the most allowed in a four-game series.
Martinez and Eugenio Suarez led the way for the Tigers with eight hits each in the four games.
“Our bats really picked up the pace,” Ausmus said. “We’ve been kind of waiting for this.
“Hopefully that will carry over into the Yankees’ series at home. I’ve said many times the offense was better than what we were seeing — and that it should bubble to the surface.”
It would also help if Oswaldo Arcia could be the right-fielder on every team the Tigers play from now on because it is gentle criticism to say he does not handle the position well.
For instance, Arcia might have set a major-league record for earliest slide on an attempted catch of Torii Hunter’s bases-loaded triple in the Tigers’ four-run eighth.
By then, however, the Tigers were well past the most difficult obstacles.