The Twins fell to five games behind the Tigers in the American League Central with Sunday's unsettling setback.
DETROIT — Victor Martinez thought he had just beaten the Minnesota Twins Sunday.
He didn’t mind settling for a supporting role.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth and Torii Hunter on first base, Martinez launched a ball to deep right field that he and everyone in the park was going to be a walk-off homer. Martinez lingered near the plate, watching the ball sail toward the bleachers, then realized he better start running.
The ball came down inches short of the top of the wall, where Oswaldo Arcia dropped it for his second huge defensive mistake of the game — both on flyballs by Martinez.
Instead of a home-run trot, Martinez scrambled to first, while Hunter ended up at third.
"I thought that one was gone," he said. "I got all of that one, but it just died at the end. Luckily, it got the runner to third. Every little bit helps when you are tied in the ninth."
J.D. Martinez followed with a fly to medium-depth center. Hunter never hesitated, and scored easily when Sam Fuld’s throw was badly off line, handing Detroit a one-run win.
"You never know what is going to happen on a play like that, but once the ball came out of his hand, I knew we were OK," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "It was an easy decision for Torii — you have to go on a ball like that and make them make the play."
The game still wasn’t officially over, as Ron Gardenhire had his players appeal to third, thinking that Hunter might have left early, but the umpires ruled he had scored legally.
Gardenhire knew that Minnesota could have won the game, and the weekend series, if Arcia hadn’t struggled so badly in right field. On Saturday, he misjudged two balls at the wall, both of them bouncing back over his head and forcing the center fielder to run them down, and he struggled again on Sunday.
"We missed some plays, and when you miss a play, you just get beat," Gardenhire said. "He just missed that last ball out there."
Hunter led off the ninth with a single off Casey Fein (3-3), and Miguel Cabrera rifled a line drive that almost knocked over shortstop Dany Santana as he made a leaping catch.
Joe Nathan (3-2) pitched a scoreless ninth. He, Fein and Hunter were all playing against the teams where they started their major-league careers — Nathan and Hunter with the Twins and Fein with Detroit.
Minnesota starter Ricky Nolasco allowed three runs in 5 1-3 innings, while Detroit’s Rick Porcello pitched seven, also giving up three runs.
While Porcello took a no-decision, his start was the fourth straight above-average outing for a rotation that has struggled along with the rest of the team in recent weeks. The Tigers won three of the games, and lost the fourth 2-0.
"Everything starts with your pitching, and that’s especially true with this team," he said. "It’s been huge for us to put these four good games together, because it is our job to pitch deep into games, give the team a chance to win every day and make sure we don’t overstress the bullpen."
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the first thanks to pair of defensive mistakes by Minnesota. With a runner on third and two out, Arcia lost a routine fly in the sun to give Victor Martinez an easy RBI double.
"I didn’t see the ball," said Arcia, who only broke for the ball in the last seconds as second baseman Brian Dozier tried vainly to point it out. "The first two or three innings, the sky was clear, and I couldn’t see the ball."
In the second, it was Josh Willingham who misplayed Austin Jackson’s liner into the left-field corner, turning a probable double into a stand-up triple. Nick Castellanos followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
The Twins took the lead with three runs in the sixth. Doubles by Joe Mauer and Willingham provided the first run, and Kendrys Morales bringing home the second with a base hit.
"I almost gave the whole game away there, because I tried to get cute with Mauer and he beat me," Porcello said. "Luckily, we kept the damage down and the guys came back in the end."
After a walk to Arcia, Kurt Suzuki lined a single to left, and Minnesota third-base coach Joe Vavra stunned all 41,462 fans by waving the plodding Morales around third. J.D. Martinez’s throw had the runner beat by 15 feet, but Alex Avila couldn’t handle it, allowing the run to score.
Ricky Nolasco, though, couldn’t hold the lead. In the bottom of the inning, Nick Castellanos doubled in the tying run, and Nolasco intentionally walked Alex Avila to load the bases with one. It was a risky move, since rookie Eugenio Suarez had three extra-base hits on Saturday, but Jared Burton came out of the bullpen to induce an infield fly. Burton then retired Ian Kinsler to end the inning, with the score tied at three.
The Tigers threatened again in the seventh after walks to Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but Matt Guerrier got them out of the jam.
Joba Chamberlain and Nathan allowed two runners in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Nathan had struggled in his last six outings, allowing 11 runs in four innings, and Ausmus was happier with what he saw on Sunday.
"I saw the winning pitcher," he said. "I thought his fastball was more consistently down, although he did leave a couple up, and his slider had good break."
NOTES: Both teams made roster moves before the game. The Tigers called up LHP Blaine Hardy from Triple-A Toledo to serve as the long man in a struggling bullpen, and sent rookie RHP Corey Knebel back to the Mud Hens. The Twins placed Trevor Plouffe on the 15-day disabled list with the oblique strain he sustained in Saturday’s loss, and called up Florimon from Triple-A Rochester.