Detroit — There were 23 runs scored on 32 hits in three hours and 36 minutes of baseball at Comerica Park on Saturday. Each team cracked three home runs. Each team had a five-run inning and each team blew a five-run lead.
But when the smoke cleared, the Tigers were dancing at home plate mobbing Justin Upton.
Upton unleashed his fury on a 2-1 fastball from right-hander Matt Belisle and launched it well beyond the left-field fence to give the Tigers a dramatic and improbable 12-11 win over the Minnesota Twins.
“This is the best-tasting win I think we’ve had all year,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “This was a tremendous team win with a lot of people involved. I hope it catapults us. I hope it gets us rolling.”
The Tigers were down 11-7 entering the eighth inning. Their record when trailing after eight innings was 0-54.
“We didn’t feel like we were out of it,” said Mikie Mahtook, who posted his fifth straight multi-hit game. “Somebody in the dugout, I don’t remember who it was, said if we could put up a crooked number and go into the ninth inning down by one or two, I have a good feeling.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, definitely.’ ”
The Twins bullpen is vulnerable since they traded closer Brandon Kintzler to the Nationals and the Tigers pounced, scoring three times in the eighth inning.
“The way our offense was clicking today, it felt like we had a chance,” Ausmus said.
After Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez singled, chasing reliever Dillon Gee, catcher James McCann drove in one run with a fielder’s choice ground out against right-hander Trevor Hildenberger. McCann hustled down the line to beat the relay throw and avoid a double play.
He was initially ruled out, but replay clearly showed he was safe and the call was overturned.
“When you have a game that plays out like this, every minutia matters,” Ausmus said. “Every baserunner, every pitch, every out becomes magnified. That was a big play right there.”
Jose Iglesias followed with a line-drive home run to left, a two-run shot that made it a one-run game.
After right-hander Joe Jimenez pitched two scoreless innings, Ausmus called on closer Shane Greene in the ninth to keep it one-run game.
Greene was able to escape a bases-loaded mess by striking out Miguel Sano to end the inning.
Belisle, who got the final out of the eighth, gave up a lead-off single to Mahtook in the bottom of the ninth, setting the stage for Upton’s heroics.
“I just got a fastball,” said Upton, who now has 22 home runs and 83 RBIs. “It was up and in the middle of the plate. I was pretty patient with him early on. Got myself into a hitter’s count and then he threw a pretty good pitch 2-0, a little slider away. And then he went to the fastball and I was able to get it elevated.”
Stopped was the Twins’ six-game winning streak.
“I don’t think anybody in here knew we were 0-54 (when trailing after eight innings),” Upton said. “We battled to the last pitch, we just hadn’t come out on top 54 times. Today was 55 and we are 1 and 54.”
It was the Tigers' second win in their last eight games.
“We’re all competitors in here,” Mahtook said. “Nobody is giving up. Nobody has cashed it in. Games like this, man, winning is fun. Whether or not people are counting us out, that has nothing to do with it now.
“You’re playing for the guys in here and because you are a competitor and you want to win. You aren’t going to go out and lose games just because we’re supposed to lose games.”
Before the fiery ending, the two teams traded huge body blows.
McCann got the Tigers off and running. His second career grand slam keyed a five-run first inning off Twins starter Jose Berrios. McCann had two hits and a career-best five RBIs. Since July 16, McCann is hitting .361 with six doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.
But the Twins answered with a five-spot off Jordan Zimmermann in the third inning, keyed by a three-run double by Joe Mauer and a two-run home run by Eddie Rosario.
“I started leaving balls up,” said Zimmermann, who in three starts against the Twins this season has allowed 17 runs and 21 hits in 11 2/3 innings. “I just didn’t have my best stuff. The first two innings, I was pretty sharp. I was hitting my spots and I don’t know what happened.
“I think I started playing open a little bit. The slider wasn’t very sharp and the fastball started to rise in the zone and I couldn’t keep it down.”
Zimmermann didn’t survive the fourth. Byron Buxton hit a laser shot that just barely cleared the wall in right field — his sixth home run of the year.
He would give up another run on an RBI single by Dozier, before departing.
“I’m going to leave with a sour taste in my mouth, but I’m happy we got the win,” he said. “It was a big win for us. The guys spotted me five runs in the first inning and I honestly have to do a better job of holding that down. I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”
The Twins, though, just kept on hitting. They had 16 hits on Friday night and another 19 Saturday.
Mauer hit a two-run home run off Edward Mujica in a three-run sixth inning. It was the fourth home run allowed by Mujica in five innings with the Tigers. The five-RBI night gave Mauer seven RBIs (and five hits) in the series.
But the Tigers kept coming. Mahtook tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Upton in the seventh. He had a double and a triple and scored twice. It was his career-best fifth straight multi-hit game. And since Aug. 5, he’s hitting .424 (14 for 32).
“I am just going at-bat to at-bat,” Mahtook said. “I do feel good and I am seeing pitches well. But more than that, I’m not trying to hit home runs or pull the ball or do anything specific. Just staying with my approach and let the game come to me.
“I am not going up there thinking I’m locked in or that I’m hot. I’m just staying in my approach and battling it out.”
That’s exactly how the Tigers got back into the game — they battled it out.
“We’ve fought consistently (this season), honestly,” Upton said. “We’ve battled a lot of games. We just haven’t gotten the results we wanted recently. These guys fight. That’s all you can ask for.”