Tigers’ fifth-inning meltdown fuels Twins win
MINNEAPOLIS — A sense of deja vu crept in Saturday as the Minnesota Twins mounted a rally without doing much with the bats.
Detroit’s bullpen struggled to find the strike zone, much like Toronto’s relievers did eight days earlier at Target Field. So the Twins took advantage of the Tigers’ erratic pitching by drawing five walks and picking up just one hit in a four-run fifth inning en route to a 5-3 win over Detroit.
It wasn’t quite the eight-walk inning like Minnesota had against the Blue Jays last homestand, but the patience of the Twins’ was once again on display. Drawing walks might not be the most exciting thing in baseball. For Minnesota, though, it again translated to a win.
"If they don’t throw them where you want them, you don’t have to swing," said Twins first baseman Chris Colabello, who drew one of the Twins’ five walks in the fifth inning. "It’s worked out a couple times so far."
Minnesota’s four-run frame began when newcomer Sam Fuld coaxed a walk against Tigers reliever Jose Ortega, who made his first appearance of the year for Detroit on Saturday. Fuld then stole second base, and Aaron Hicks walked to put a pair of runners on with nobody out in the inning.
The Twins scored their first run without the help of a hit, as Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday threw away Eduardo Escobar’s sacrifice bunt in front of the plate. That allowed Fuld to score on the play as Minnesota cut the deficit to 2-1.
Brian Dozier followed that up with a walk, the third of the inning for Minnesota. Joe Mauer did the same one batter later and drove in a run in the process, knotting the game at 2.
Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe must not have gotten the memo to take a walk. He instead laced a 3-1 pitch from Phil Coke back up the middle to drive in a pair of runs and give Minnesota a 4-2 lead on its first hit of the game.
"I faced Phil enough to know that he’s sinking the ball up there," Plouffe said. "I didn’t want to chase anything, so I got to 3-1 there and I zoned up on a pitch and got it. . . . We’re just going up there trying to keep the line moving, and we did that again today."
After Plouffe’s two-run single came Minnesota’s fifth walk of the inning as Colabello worked a walk against Coke. But the Twins would strand runners on base as Jason Kubel struck out swinging and Josmil Pinto bounced into an inning-ending double play to end the threat.
Still, Minnesota again did damage on offense despite just one hit. The team that has drawn the most walks in baseball added to its total, and the result was a big fifth inning.
"I think that’s called grinding at its finest," Colabello said. "You do whatever it takes to move guys along on the bases and eventually get guys in. . . . It was a really nice inning, just in terms of team at-bats. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the game’s about. When you go up there, you’re playing for the rest of the guys in the batting order. You’re not just playing for yourself."
The lengthy fifth inning for the Twins’ bats meant starting pitcher Phil Hughes had to wait a bit longer before taking the mound to start the sixth, but he was happy with the run support. Hughes eventually went seven innings, allowing just two runs on four hits to earn his second win of the year.
Minnesota’s offense picked up Hughes on Saturday, but it did so without having to swing the bats much. In all, the Twins walked eight times in the game and finished with only four hits. Just last week at this same ballpark, Minnesota scored six runs while drawing eight walks in the eighth inning against Toronto.
Saturday’s walk party at Target Field wasn’t quite as festive, but the Twins again capitalized on a shaky bullpen. In doing so, Minnesota improved to 12-11 on the year.
"The best teams I’ve ever been on are the teams that come to the field and it doesn’t matter who gets it done today, just that it gets done at the end of the day and we look up and we’ve got more runs than the other guys," Colabello said. "Walks are part of being competitive, having competitive at-bats, putting yourself in position to get a good hit, not being too anxious, not wanting to do too much. I think we’ve got a lot of guys who really understand who they are and are trying to do the best they can to bring that guy to the field every day."
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