Minnesota offense aided by longball of late

The Minnesota Twins won the series opener Monday against the Detroit Tigers without an extra-base hit. Thirteen hits, all singles.

Early on Tuesday’s game in Detroit, the Twins were on a similar course as their first three hits were all singles. But a two-run homer by Josh Willingham changed that, and Minnesota continued to flex its muscle the rest of the night en route to an 8-6 win over the Tigers for a season-high fifth straight win.

“We’ve got guys that can hit,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after Tuesday’s win. “We’ve got guys that can drive a baseball. We saw that out of spring training. These guys can do it. Josh has been doing it all year long.”

Willingham, Trevor Plouffe and Joe Mauer all homered in Tuesday’s victory, which improved Minnesota’s record to 35-45. Willingham’s blast tied him momentarily with Plouffe for the team lead at 18 homers. Just two batters later, though, Plouffe took the lead right back with a two-run home run of his own. The right-handed sluggers helped spark a five-run third inning, which dug Minnesota out of a 3-1 deficit after two innings.

Willingham and Plouffe have gone back and forth as of late. When one hits a home run, the other is usually quick to answer. Tuesday, it took just seven pitches for Plouffe to regain his lead.

“I think it picks each other up when one of us hits one,” Willingham said. “I’m not saying that’s why the other one’s going to hit one. It gets the team going and it gets us going. Any time you can get a spark, whether it be from a home run or from anything, it picks us up. I think that’s what it’s kind of started to become.”

Plouffe homered twice in Sunday’s series finale and once in the first game of Saturday’s double-header. Tuesday’s two-run blast made it four home runs for him in a four-day span. Plouffe is now slugging a team-high .561.

“I don’t know how to describe it anymore. He’s just incredible,” Gardenhire said of Plouffe. “It seems like every night he’s doing something huge, and he had a heck of a ballgame tonight.”

Mauer, recently named to the 2012 All-Star Game, added his fifth homer of the year in the top of the ninth inning as he took Joaquin Benoit deep to left field to lead off the inning. It gave reliever Glen Perkins an extra run of support entering the bottom of the ninth as he earned the save.

Mauer’s last two home runs this year have gone to the opposite field. Tuesday’s home run was his second in four days as he also went deep in the second game of Saturday’s double-header. His last homer before that was back on June 2. Mauer also added a double Tuesday, doubling to center field to lead off the seventh. He scored three times and went 3-for-5 to raise his average to a team-best .332.

The Twins have now hit 10 home runs over the past four games, dating back to the second game of the double-header Saturday against Kansas City. Prior to that game, Minnesota had hit 10 total home runs over its previous 14 games. The Twins slugged a season-high four homers in Sunday’s series finale against the Royals.

After going without a home run Monday, Minnesota got back to the long ball Tuesday.

“It’s important for us to be playing well, and we are right now. We’re swinging the bats well,” Willingham said. “… We got some big hits tonight.”

Added Plouffe: “Like Willy said, we just feed off each other. Not just him and I, but the whole team. We’re in it together as a unit.”

Robby Incmikoski contributed to this report.

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