When the Twins left Guaranteed Rate Field last Thursday, it appeared that they had left the AL Central Division title there for the White Sox.
But a team’s fortunes can change quickly and greatly affect an abbreviated season.
Chicago has sputtered, suffering consecutive walkoff losses in Cleveland this week. And the Twins, playing without the sore-kneed Nelson Cruz, won their fourth straight game with a 7-6 victory over Detroit on Wednesday. The Twins now are one-half game ahead of the White Sox in the division race.
Chicago has a game in hand and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker since the teams split 10 games this season. The Twins still need a little help, but they will enter the final weekend of the regular season with a seat at the table and chips to play.
It got close at the end, as Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth — his second of the game — before Sergio Romo got the final out.
The Twins, known for scoring most of their runs by the home run, enjoyed an outbreak of singles in the third inning. Jorge Polanco, back in the lineup after needing a day because of a sore ankle, singled, stole second then scored on Marwin Gonzalez’s single. Ryan Jeffers added the third single of the inning, then a run scored when Byron Buxton into a fielder’s choice.
The stringing-hits-together thing quickly ran its course. Jake Cave blasted a two-run homer in the fourth. Eddie Rosario hit an two-run, opposite field homer in the fifth. And the Twins looked well on their way to a fourth consecutive win.
Kenta Maeda, 6-1, 2.70, made it look easy for five innings. He was in full command of this fastball, slider and changeup and Tigers hitters were overmatched. He retired 10 consecutive Detroit batters at one point, and the run would have been longer if Maeda’s throw to first on Eric Haase’s grounder in the second would have been more on the mark. Instead, Hasse ran into Miguel Sano’s arm as he stretched for the throw, ripping his glove off, and the burly first baseman was in pain for a few moments before continuing play.
It looked to be a signature performance to punctuate his first regular season with the Twins, but then came the humbling sixth inning.
Issac Paredes led off with a single. After Cave made a diving catch of Victor Reyes liner, Willi Castro singled to left. That brought up Miguel Cabrera, who turned back the clock five years and pounded a Maeda pitch 438 feet and into the seats for a three-run homer that cut the lead to 6-3.
Maeda was replaced by Matt Wisler after the sixth, but left with a parting gift. That 18th and final out gave him 66⅔ innings for the season, earning him a $92,592 bonus. Actually, he also got a $92,592 bonus after the third inning, too. It’s part of the incentive-laden deal he signed with the Dodgers before the 2016 season, with bonuses prorated for the 60-game season.
The Twins will be happy to spend the extra money, as they have gotten everything they hoped for when they dealt rocket-armed reliever Brusdar Graterol to the Dodgers for him shortly before spring training.