Minneapolis — The Detroit Tigers had been trying to find the hole in C.J. Cron's swing all series.
They knew it was there, up in the strike zone. But in Saturday's doubleheader he was 5-for-8 with two home runs and four RBIs. Suffice to say, they didn't find it.
"We've been trying to get there all series," Tigers catcher John Hicks said. "And he's been hitting the ball hard."
They found it Sunday — specifically, reliever Buck Farmer found it — in the nick of time to lock down a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Twins and a series split against the top team in the American League Central Division.
"I think you saw how tough it is to get the last nine outs against these guys," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They can really swing it and they put a lot of pressure on you."
The Tigers took a 5-0 run lead into the bottom of the seventh. Starter Daniel Norris cruised through six innings, limiting the Twins to four singles and a walk. It was the first time he’s completed six innings in an outing since June 22, 2017.
"Norris was unbelievable," Gardenhire said. "He was fantastic."
And after he got the first out in the seventh on one pitch, it looked like he might breeze through another inning.
He gave up a home run to Ehire Adrianza and a ringing double to Jake Cave. His day was over, but the drama was just beginning.
Right-hander Victor Alcantara took over and gave up an RBI single to Byron Buxton and then a double to Willians Astudillo, before getting Jorge Polanco to pop up for the second out.
The wheels started turning then. With left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario announced as a pinch-hitter for Nelson Cruz (who had a left wrist injury), Gardenhire countered with lefty Daniel Stumpf.
"I don't like it when he comes up," Gardenhire said. "I've known him for a long time and I don't like facing him. He kills us. I wasn't going to let him face a right-handed pitcher. We knew who they had on the bench, but we were going to take our chances with him."
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli brought Rosario back and sent up, as Gardenhire thought, right-handed hitting Mitch Garver. Stumpf walked him to load the bases. He also walked Marwin Gonzalez to force in a run and make it 5-3.
"You need to throw strikes," Gardenhire said. "You can't walk people in that situation and put more runners on. You can't give up a home run, either, so it's a fine line. But I had no problem using Stumpf against a right-hander."
With the bases still loaded, Gardenhire brought in Farmer to face Cron.
"Talking with Hicks and (Grayson) Greiner last night, it's going to be tough for a tall guy (like Cron) to get the bat up there," Farmer said of the plan to work Cron up in the zone. "There's exceptions, don't get me wrong. There are tall guys who can get their bat up there on high fastballs.
"But we've been living down against him, or with change-ups away and he's hurt us. You've got to stand him up at some point."
Farmer started him with a slider that was fouled off. Then got a called strike with a 95 mph fastball. He purposely missed in the dirt with a slider on the 0-2 pitch — with the intent of setting up the high heat.
"Buck got it there," Hicks said.
With authority. Farmer blew a 96-mph fastball right through the hole in Cron's swing — strike three, end of threat.
"He made a great pitch," Hicks said. "Bucks been awesome for us. He's come in in a lot of big spots and he's thrown the ball really well. I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's doing."
There was more drama in the bottom of the eighth. Joe Jimenez walked Ehire Adrianza and with two outs gave up a double to Buxton. But with runners at second and third, Jimenez got Astudillo to pop out to shortstop Ronny Rodriguez.
Closer Shane Greene worked a relatively stress-free ninth, getting Cron to fly out to earn his league-leading 15th save.
"We're starting to swing the bats better," Gardenhire said. "I still would've liked to put up 10 runs and not have these one and two-run games all the time. But I've been saying, when the weather gets better, we'll start putting up better swings."
The Tigers hit seven home runs in this four-game series. Nick Castellanos, who had three hits on the day, hit a two-run home run in the first inning and Brandon Dixon hit a solo shot (his second in two days) in the second on Sunday.
"It feels good just to help the team, to be able to produce when you get a chance," Dixon said. "That's the main thing. It's been fun."
The Tigers managed just 13 home runs through the first 23 games and 857 plate appearances. In the last 14 games and 520 plate appearances, they’ve hit 18.
"To get a split here was huge," Dixon said. "Tough series, four games in three nights — to get two the way we did, we really battled and came through."