Detroit — It started with a walk. And then another one.
Those two mistakes in the eighth inning opened the door enough for the Minnesota Twins to play small ball to get the go-ahead runs and take a 6-4 victory over the Tigers on Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 30,582 at Comerica Park.
Bruce Rondon entered in the eighth inning in a 4-4 tie and walked the only two batters he faced. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus brought in Warwick Saupold, who gave up a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third.
Byron Buxton followed with a go-ahead single to center, scoring Eddie Rosario. Catcher Chris Gimenez scored an insurance run on a sacrifice fly to left, for the final margin.
Rondon threw only one strike in his nine pitches — and was optioned to Triple-A Toledo after the game.
“We were trying to keep the game where it’s at and he had a little trouble throwing strikes — that’s why I went to Saupold,” Ausmus said. “It was really the first four pitches that were alarming; they weren’t really close.”
The Tigers fell into an early four-run deficit after a slow start, managing just one hit in the first three innings against Twins starter Ervin Santana. Brian Dozier led off the game with his 23rd home run and the played more small ball in the second, with a single, walk and two sacrifices to get their second run.
Miguel Sano’s two-run home run, his 26th of the season, made it a 4-0 lead in the third.
The Tigers benefited with three runs from a rough fifth inning defensively by the Twins. Mikie Mahtook reached on an error when Sano’s foot came off of first base on a routine grounder. The next batter, Alex Presley — who went 3-for-5 — doubled to right, setting the Tigers up with runners on second and third with no outs.
With Nick Castellanos batting, Santana’s pitch got by Gimenez, scoring Mahtook. Castellanos had an RBI single to score Presley, trimming the lead to 4-2. Castellanos moved to second on another passed ball and John Hicks walked. Victor Martinez was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
James McCann struck out swinging, but the pitch got away from Gimenez, allowing Castellanos to score and the other two runners to move up. In all, the Twins had three passed balls, a wild pitch, an error and hit a batter in the inning.
“It ended up tying the game up. It’s not the normal way of having a rally, but it put his back into the game,” Ausmus said. “The offense doesn’t quit; it keeps fighting.”
Tigers starter Matthew Boyd gave up the first four runs but settled down after the Sano home run. He allowed just two hits over the next 3 1/3 innings and was done in the sixth, after throwing 111 pitches. He gave up six hits and four runs with three walks and five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
It wasn’t a great outing, but bouncing back from the early jams was encouraging. He pointed to the two pitches on the home runs as his undoing “I’ve got to be better with it,” Boyd said. “It wasn’t necessarily the wrong pitch (to Dozier), but you have to be better at it. Same thing with Sano — that’s what it comes down to: executing pitches.
“Both those pitches weren’t executed and unfortunately, it cost some runs.”
The Tigers scored their first run in the fourth inning, on a leadoff double by Justin Upton, who moved to third on Castellanos’ single and scored on Hicks’ sacrifice fly.
Martinez and McCann followed with singles, stoking another potential rally. But Andrew Romine struck out and Jose Iglesias appeared to check his swing but first-base umpire Scot Barry ruled that he went around — and the threat was over.
In a weekend that featured Saturday’s thrilling comeback with Upton’s walk-off home run in the ninth inning, the Tigers are getting a boost from their never-say-die attitude, especially in bigger deficits.
“Just the comebacks, especially where we are in the season,” McCann said. “Everyone is counting us out and it’d be easy to throw in the towel. It speaks a lot to the character of the guys on this team when they feel there’s something to play for.”