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Minneapolis — For a Tigers team that has spent most of the season in first place, winning a division title requires a few finishing tasks.

You must pitch better than David Price and his bullpen mates pitched Wednesday in a shabby 8-4 loss to the Twins at Target Field that left the Tigers a half-game ahead of the Royals heading into a weekend series at Kansas City.

You must also run the bases with more aplomb than the Tigers showed in a particularly critical seventh-inning situation.

They trailed at that point, 6-4, and were loving the fact Torii Hunter stood at third base and Miguel Cabrera was on second with one out as Victor Martinez came to the plate, armed with a bat that in 2014 has been more like an assault rifle.

Martinez ripped a hard-shot grounder to Joe Mauer at first, who got the putout on Martinez and then looked up to see Cabrera stuck between third and second. Hunter had rightfully gotten nervous about trying to score on Mauer, who might well have thrown him out, even as the Twins infield was playing back.

But the combination of Hunter's holding pattern at third, and Cabrera's strides toward third, led to an easy relay from Mauer and a putout of a helpless Cabrera.

"A ground ball anywhere else and Hunter's going on contact," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who agreed pitching, not baserunning, was behind Wednesday's belly-flop, their second consecutive bopping by the last-place Twins.

"My instinct is to go, but if it's hit hard, no," Hunter said of his seventh-inning hesitancy. "I want to make sure I can get home, for sure. I might have taken a step too quick and gotten Miggy in no-man's land."

Ausmus acknowledged the baserunning blow-up, while ugly, "was not the cause of our downfall." No, what mattered more was Price's inability to turn in a Price-grade start as he worked 5 2/3 innings, with emphasis on worked.

Price got whacked for four hits and three Twins runs in the first inning after Detroit had taken a 2-0 lead. With the Tigers leading, 4-3, in the sixth, he was popped for a pair of doubles that tied the game and brought on Al Alburquerque, who served a triple off the top of the left-center field fence to Brian Dozier, giving the Twins a 5-4 edge.

Kyle Ryan replaced Alburquerque in time for Joe Mauer to make it four extra-base hits in a single inning. His double made it 6-4 and the Tigers, who had planned on winning as compensation for allowing the Twins to sack them Tuesday, 4-3, had suddenly lost back-to-back games to the last-place Twins.

Not the tone-setter Ausmus and his crew had hoped to take into Kansas City for Friday night's opener of a three-game showdown against the Royals.

"We're not happy coming here and losing two out of three," Ausmus said, "but face it, we've been through this before."

He was referring, of course, to a Tigers team that in an instant can slip from cruise control into reverse. But the idea of consecutive losses to the Twins seemed improbable Wednesday when Price, a Cy Young Award winner who in any year tends to pitch like one, was piloting the series finale.

"I just think he struggled a little bit with his command," said Ausmus, who might have understated matters there.

Price's pitch-count was at 50 through two innings and on its way to 112 by the time he was excused in the sixth. Normally a marksman, he threw only 45 strikes in his first 78 pitches.

The Twins gouged him for eight hits and five runs. He struck out only five batters and walked three.

"I just didn't make enough quality pitches," said Price, who is 3-4 since joining the Tigers by way of a July deadline trade. "I didn't get it done."

Certain Tigers had no reason to apologize, beginning with Cabrera. He had two doubles, two singles, and nearly slammed a home run in his fifth at-bat. It gave him a .571 batting average in the three-game Twins series and suggested his ailing right ankle is getting better.

The Tigers had 11 hits, with Hunter and J.D. Martinez (.314) adding two apiece. Nick Castellanos had a single and a RBI and nearly stroked a home run in the eighth, when the Tigers got a pair of singles. Castellanos' drive, however, was snared at the right-center-field wall.

It was that kind of night for the Tigers. Nothing that had been working the past 10 days for the Tigers clicked Wednesday: not the pitching, not some tactical decisions on the basepaths, and not enough on the hitting side to withstand some collective failings.

The Tigers are off today ahead of Friday's shindig at Kauffman Stadium.

"Sometimes, when you have a game like this," Ausmus said, "it's better to get right back on the field."

And sometimes, perhaps, it's better to have a day to think about things – especially with games as season-deciding as could be the set at Kansas City.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Lynn_Henning

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