Minneapolis — Mikie Mahtook hasn’t had a lot to smile about this season, losing his starting spot and roster spot in April and shuttling back and forth between Detroit and Toledo all season.
He was smiling on Saturday.
Mahtook knocked in four runs — three with a tie-breaking, three-run home run in the fifth inning — to help the Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins, 7-5, at Target Field and snap both an eight-game road losing streak and a four-game skid overall.
"I don't know if I can hit a ball much harder," Mahtook said. "It felt good."
It was Mahtook’s second home run in three games, an impressive at-bat against Twins reliever Tyler Duffey.
He took a fastball for strike one, then laid off a knuckle-curve and another fastball off the plate. He swung late on a 2-1 fastball to even the count.
"I knew he beat me with a heater," Mahtook said. "And I was actually ready to hit a heater on the next pitch."
Duffey came back with an 83-mph knuckle-curve. Mahtook was not fooled. He lashed it, exit velocity off the bat 107 mph, on a line over the left-field fence.
"I wasn't cheating to the fastball, but I was ready for it," Mahtook said. "I was able to recognize the off-speed pitch pretty early and put a good swing on it."
The inning was set up when Duffey hit Niko Goodrum in the hip with a pitch and Victor Martinez was safe at first on fielder’s choice. Martinez hit a spinning ground ball to Joe Mauer at first. Mauer spun and threw to second. Goodrum, originally called out, was safe after video review.
There was no return throw on Martinez.
Mahtook made them pay for that indiscretion, just like he’d done in the third inning against Twins starter Kohl Stewart.
Stewart, making his second big-league start (both against the Tigers), loaded the bases with a single and two walks. But with two outs, and two strikes on Mahtook, he drilled him in the leg with a pitch, forcing in a run.
Ronny Rodriguez then dumped salt in the wound with a two-run double to right field.
"That team over there (the Twins), I've seen those young guys coming up and I've always known they can swing it," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They get after it and they're aggressive and we've watched them come back in a lot of baseball games.
"Just like our team did early in the season. We still battled to the end and so did they. They weren't giving in and we just had to keep grinding. This was a nice win for us."
Those two three-run innings offset three solo home runs allowed by Tigers’ emergency starter Ryan Carpenter. Called up from Toledo after Artie Lewicki (elbow inflammation) and Blaine Hardy (elbow tendinitis) went on the disabled list, Carpenter was making his first start in the big leagues since May 31.
On that day, after pitching four strong innings against the Angels, Carpenter left with an oblique strain that put him out for two months.
He had made just four starts at Toledo before being summoned Friday, but he gave the Tigers a solid 5.1 innings and earned his first big-league win.
"It feels really good," Carpenter said. "I struggled there at the beginnig, but I started to figure stuff out toward the end and I got better results."
The only damage was the three solo home runs, one in each of the first three innings by Mauer (his first career leadoff homer, after hitting the game-winner in his only at-bat Friday), Tyler Austin and Miguel Sano.
"We talked after the third inning and we thought my tempo was a little bit slow," Carpenter said. "In the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, I picked up the tempo and saw a dramatic difference.
"Just in location, mixing pitches better, it made a huge difference."
Mauer has had himself a series. He’s 6-for-10 with two doubles, two home runs, five runs scored and four RBIs. And he nearly tied the game in the eighth.
The Tigers had gladly accepted an unearned run from the Twins in the top of the eighth, extending the lead to 7-3 courtesy of a throwing error by shortstop Jorge Polanco.
After Drew VerHagen and Victor Alcantara (one run allowed in 17.2 innings) put up zeros, Joe Jimenez had a stumble in the eighth inning. He ended up throwing 33 pitches and only got two outs.
He walked Max Kepler to start the inning and then spun a slider to Mitch Garver that ended up 404 feet into the seats in left field. It was the third homer off Jimenez in his last six innings of work.
With one out, he walked Jake Cave, which brought Mauer to the plate as the tying run.
In a 13-pitch at-bat, Mauer hit a ball some 400 feet, to straightaway center field, that Victor Reyes tracked and caught.
Closer Shane Greene ended the eighth by getting Eddie Rosario to line out. Then he completed the four-out save with a clean ninth, dispatching the Twins' Nos. 3-4-5 hitters.
It was Greene's 26th save. He has not taken a loss or blown a save since June 26 — a span of 14 games.