Twice as nice: Martinez blasts two homers in Tigers' win
Minneapolis — Is it possible to knock Twins All-Star Ervin Santana out of the game in the fourth inning, get a pair of 400-foot-plus home runs from Victor Martinez, build a 5-0 lead in 3 1/2 innings and still lose?
Of course it is.
But not this night. Less than 24 hours after taking a 16-4 tanning in Kansas City and working on short sleep, the Tigers bullpen locked things down over the final 3 1/3 innings Friday night to preserve a 6-3 win over a Minnesota Twins team that came in trailing Central Division-leading Cleveland by a half-game.
“Just great at-bats,” said Tigers center fielder Mikie Mahtook, who contributed a walk, single and triple. “We went in with a game plan (against Santana). Everybody had their own individual plan off him and they executed.
“We fought off tough pitches, laid off tough pitches and his pitch count got way up. Victor's two home runs helped. But even without those two home runs, his pitch count was up. And that's a credit to the guys up and down the lineup, everybody doing their job."
Martinez hit both his home runs on 3-2 pitches. In the second inning, he turned on a 93-mph fastball from Santana and hit it 411 feet into the stands in right-center field. In the fourth, after Nick Castellanos doubled, Martinez hit a 3-2 change-up 408 feet, nearly in the same spot.
“It was great,” Mahtook said of Martinez’s feat. “He comes to work every day and puts together good at-bats. He's had some bad luck lately, but he got those two balls pretty good. I don't think they are going to stay in any park in the league.
“It's good to see him not get one but two.”
The Tigers nearly hit for the cycle against Santana in the fourth. Mahtook followed the double and home run with a triple and scored on a wild pitch. Justin Upton had an RBI double off Santana in the third inning.
“Victor’s been swinging the bat pretty well here the last 10 days or so,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “As a matter of fact, he was seven for his last 17 with three walks. He's a good hitter. He's been a good hitter for a long time.”
It was the shortest outing of the season for Santana (3 1/3 innings, five runs and seven hits). And the 5-0 lead looked fairly secure considering how Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez was dealing through three innings.
His assortment of varied off-speed selections had the Twins hitters off-balance, hitting balls softly or not at all. But the cushion shrunk considerably as the Twins scored three times in the bottom of the fourth.
“Today was one of those days,” Sanchez said. “I was missing a lot of my pitches in the zone. I gave way too many walks and put myself in too many hard situations. Being behind in the count. Today, every time I'm behind in the count I felt like I gave up a walk or a base hit.”
Zack Granite rolled a single under Ian Kinsler’s glove to start the inning. Sanchez walked Joe Mauer and gave up an RBI single to Miguel Sano.
With two outs, he walked Eddie Rosario to load the bases. On a 2-2 pitch to Ehire Adrianza — after Sanchez twice called catcher Alex Avila out to the mound — he threw a 75-mph curveball that Adrianza flipped into right field, scoring two.
“I threw him a curveball down and away and he put it down the right-field side and got two RBIs,” Sanchez said. “After that, I just tried to stop right away every rally. I don't want to let them have a chance to tie the game.”
Sanchez said the two mound visits were to clarify signs, he and Avila weren’t debating what pitch to throw in that situation.
“We weren't having a hard time (selecting a pitch),” he said. “I just missed the sequence. It was not like we were having a hard time deciding. It was more just a misunderstanding.”
Earlier in that inning, Cabrera took a hard ground ball — struck at 103 mph exit velocity by Robbie Grossman — off the middle of his chest. He left the game after the fourth inning. X-rays were taken and came back negative.
The Tigers said it was a right clavicle contusion and Cabrera is day-to-day.
“We will see how it is tomorrow,” Ausmus said. “I don’t expect it to be anything long-term.”
Sanchez was pulled after he walked Rosario on four pitches with two outs in the sixth. He was at 102 pitches and only 58 strikes. He fell behind 2-0 on seven of the 25 batters he faced.
“I feel good today,” he said. “Command is always something that's lacking. Today it wasn't there. Just thank God we were able to get the team a win.”
The bullpen, tagged for eight runs in 6 1/3 innings Thursday, gave up just one hit the rest of the way. First left-hander Daniel Stumpf got the last out of the sixth and the first out of the seventh. Shane Greene got the Tigers through the seventh and Bruce Rondon, impressively, struck out Sano and Grossman in a clean eighth inning.
That cleared the set for closer Justin Wilson and his bid for redemption after his blown save and loss against the Royals Wednesday night.
“I wanted to get back out there last night,” Wilson said. “Just the life of a reliever, you want to get right back out there, especially after a bad one.”
Wilson pitched a scoreless and relatively stress-free ninth (he walked Eduardo Escobar with two outs) to earn his 11th save.
“The two-out walk was stupid,” he said. “But it didn’t hurt us.”