MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —P.J. Walters went toe-to-toe with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, the triple crown chaser who has dominated the American League this season.
Casey Fien didn’t have quite the same luck.
Cabrera eighth-inning home run gave the Tigers a five-run cushion they would end up needing and Justin Verlander struck out eight in seven innings in a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday that gave them a two-game lead in the AL Central.
After going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Walters (2-5), Cabrera drove the first pitch he saw from Fien just over the left field wall for a three-run homer. Andy Dirks followed with a solo shot three batters later for a 6-0 lead.
Cabrera’s homer proved to be a big one after Ryan Doumit hit a grand slam off of Joaquin Benoit in the eighth. Al Alburquerque helped the Detroit bullpen do what it couldn’t do against the lowly Twins on Friday night — finish the game. Jose Valverde picked up his 33rd save.
“I try not to read too much into it. It’s just been a good couple days,” said Doumit, whose two-run double in the eighth inning on Friday night lifted the Twins to a 4-2 win. “Today was too little, too late.”
It may have been just in time for Walters, who is trying to make his case for a position in the starting rotation next season. He missed two and a half months earlier this season with shoulder problems but has allowed five earned runs in 16 innings over his last three starts. He gave up two runs on four hits with five strikeouts in five innings on Saturday.
“The shoulder injury set him back, but he’s bounced back from that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He looks healthy out there. He’s able to spin the ball, change speeds. He’s got a big, looping curveball. Hitters don’t seem to pick it up too good. We’ll see. He’s going to be in the mix.”
Walters gave up a solo homer to Prince Fielder and an RBI-double to Jhonny Peralta to fall behind 2-0 in the second. But he only allowed one hit over his final three innings of work.
“I’ve felt fine since I got back,” Walters said. “Pitches have gotten, I guess, gradually better. Obviously the results aren’t there. I haven’t won a game all September. I didn’t win today.”
With a free and easy delivery, Verlander (17-8) kept his fastball at 93 or 94 mph while keeping the Twins off balance with an array of off-speed pitches. He started to ramp things up in the fourth when he blew Justin Morneau away with consecutive fastballs of 98 and 99 and hit 100 later in the inning.
It wasn’t just Verlander’s dazzling stuff that gave the Twins hitters problems. The afternoon shadows at Target Field make it very difficult for hitters to pick up the ball coming out of the pitcher’s hand and often contributes to slow days for the offense.
That appeared to be the case early for Cabrera as well, who was befuddled by Walters. The slugger struck out in his first two at-bats and flew out to right in his third. Cabrera entered the day leading Mauer by five points in the batting race, Hamilton by eight in the RBI race, but trailing Hamilton by one in homers.
Cabrera’s blast was his 43rd home run for the year. He also leads the AL in batting average (.327) and RBIs (136) as he looks to become the first player since 1967 to lead the league in all three categories.
“It’s unbelievable what he’s done this year,” said Verlander, the reigning AL MVP who was wearing a dark blue t-shirt with the message “Keep the MVP in the D” and Cabrera’s name on the front. “It’s amazing to me how he keeps getting better. He’s already the best hitter in the game and he keeps taking it to another level.”
Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe each had two hits for the Twins. Joe Mauer went 0 for 3 with two walks, dropping his average to .320.
NOTES: Verlander left with nobody out in the eighth after Denard Span reached on an error, marking just the fourth time all season he’s been taken out in the middle of an inning. … One night after making a costly error late in a 4-2 loss to the Twins, Fielder was sharp at 1B, making a quick decision on a hot grounder from Jamey Carroll in the fifth. Fielder threw to third base and Cabrera chased Plouffe down to get the lead runner. … Plouffe snapped an 0-for-18 skid with a double in the fifth inning. … The Tigers will send RHP Anibal Sanchez (4-6, 3.95) to the mound for the series finale against Twins RHP Liam Hendriks (1-8, 6.09). Sanchez is coming off of his first shutout in more than a year, a three-hitter against Kansas City that put the Tigers into a tie for first place.