Tigers trounce Twins, Verlander to pitch nightcap

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pinch hitter Victor Martinez hits a three-run homer againsts the Twins during the ninth inning at Target Field on Thursday in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis – James McCann nailed it.

In a good-humored way.

Asked about playing in front of maybe 2,000 fans at Target Field Thursday afternoon, McCann quipped, “Their ‘Dress up like a seat, get in free’ promotion worked pretty good…That’s a good crowd for the Florida State League.”

It was the makeup game from the postponement Wednesday night, the first of two Thursday, and not many Twins fans played hooky from work or school. It was on the Tigers to generate their own energy.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 9, Twins 2

Which, after seven sleepy innings, they did, using a six-run ninth inning to put the Twins to rout 9-2.

“It's easy to let yourself drag along with not having a crowd, but we snapped out of it,” said Justin Upton. “These games matter. We should be into them regardless of who's in the stands, even if we have an empty stadium. Like I said, it's easy to allow yourself to do that, but we snapped out of it and started getting some runs.”

The win moved the Tigers a half-game out of the second wild-card spot and just a game out of the first wild-card spot.

“It's a funny game,” McCann said. “A lot of guys refer to parts of this game as like a rollercoaster. Lots of ups and downs. You have to weather the storm sometimes. A lot can happen in 11 games. That's why you play 162.”

In a matchup of spot starters – Anibal Sanchez for the Tigers and lefty Pat Dean for the Twins – you expected some fireworks. But the powder hadn’t dried, apparently, from the previous night’s storms.

There were a couple of explosions, though. Upton’s 444-foot home run to center field in the seventh inning broke a 1-1 tie, and Victor Martinez’s pinch-hit, three-run bomb highlighted a wild six-run ninth.

“Justin Upton,” manager Brad Ausmus said afterward. “Think about some of the home runs he’s hit over the last month or so – just some big home runs this month since he’s got hot – probably as many big home runs as we’ve had compacted into one month.”

It was Upton’s 26th homer and his 13th since Aug. 21.

“It felt good,” Upton said. “Anytime you can give your team a lead, it's nice. It was dragging a little bit. We weren't really getting the bats going. But no matter how you get them, you've got to get them.”

Never was that more true than in the ninth. It was a 3-2 game when the Tigers came to bat.

Twins reliever Pat Light walked both J.D. Martinez and Upton to start the inning. His wild pitch moved them to second and third. Then, as he was trying to deliver an intentional walk to Erick Aybar, he lofted the pitch over the catcher’s head to the backstop.

“That doesn’t happen often, but honestly, that’s why I hope they don’t change that rule to save time,” Ausmus said.

Martinez scored easily, making it 4-2 and ending Light’s day.

After Aybar walked, Victor Martinez, who had missed the game Tuesday with a sore right knee and didn't start this one, slammed a 3-0 pitch from reliever Michael Tonkin beyond the bleachers in right field. He is the first Tigers to hit three pinch-hit homers in a season since Larry Herndon in 1986.

“I guess I feel pretty good, man,” said Victor Martinez, whose right knee is still purple and swollen. “A lot better though. I was able to get a pitch I was able to hit, I was just trying to get that run from third but I was able to get all three, so it’s always good.”

The Tigers reloaded the bases and Miguel Cabrera was walked, scoring the eighth run. After J.D. Martinez struck out, the ball bounced away from catcher Juan Centeno. Cameron Maybin scampered home with the final run.

“That’s something we focus on -- getting the offense rolling by getting the next batter to the plate,” McCann said. “We got a few walks, guys laid off some good pitches. We got the big hit from Victor and then we loaded the bases again. That's how you generate a big inning.”

The last time Sanchez made a start, Sept. 14, it was against the Twins and he was tagged for six runs in four innings. Different story this time.

He gave up a long home run to Brian Dozier on his third pitch of this game. It was Dozier’s 42nd of the season and his 40th in games he’s played at second base. That is a new American League record.

Sanchez gave up a double to the next hitter, Jorge Polanco – and then slammed the door. He wound up going five innings and allowing just those two hits.

“Sanchy did a real nice job,” Ausmus said. “If you’d told me he’d go five innings and give up one run, I would have said, ‘Outstanding.’”

It was the Tigers’ 10th straight win at Target Field, eighth this season.

The regularly scheduled nightcap featured a battle of aces, Justin Verlander vs. Twins Ervin Santana.