Walters stands tall, Twins beat Tigers

DETROIT (AP) — After a home run by one of his best hitters and strong effort from the bullpen, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire was in good spirits in his office.

The Twins have little time to waste if they want to avoid another lost season, but sweeping two games in Detroit against the defending AL Central champions was a small step in the right direction.

“We had some good things happen — a good couple of wins here,” Gardenhire said. “This is a great team. This is the team everybody’s picked to win this division, and you come in here and you win a couple of ballgames against them, and you go toe to toe with them. It’s a good feeling. It’s something we can kind of build off of.”

Justin Morneau hit a two-run homer in his second game back from a wrist injury, and the Twins held on for a 4-3 victory over the Tigers on Thursday in the finale of a two-game series. Minnesota jumped ahead 4-0 and held on through some tense moments in the late innings.

P.J. Walters (1-1) allowed four hits — including three solo homers — in 6 1-3 innings for the Twins, who have won two in a row for only the second time this season. They’re 12-26 in 2012 after losing 99 games last year.

Morneau’s homer off Doug Fister (0-2) opened the scoring in the third, and Trevor Plouffe followed with a long ball. Minnesota added another run in the fifth before the Tigers came back with homers by Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks and Prince Fielder.

“I don’t like to give up home runs, but the offense gave me a little room to work with there, so it didn’t hurt us,” Walters said.

Three relievers finished for the Twins, with Matt Capps pitching a perfect ninth for his eighth save.

Francisco Liriano came on with two on and one out in the seventh and got pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago to hit into a double play. Glen Perkins walked the first two Detroit hitters in the eighth on nine pitches, but he struck out Fielder, and Delmon Young hit into a double play to end that inning.

“The only thing that has been consistent for this team is the inconsistency, and that’s mind boggling to me,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We just aren’t putting together the combinations that we need to win.”

The Tigers were hoping for a strong start from Fister after allowing 19 runs in their previous two games against the Twins and Chicago White Sox, but the Detroit right-hander was in trouble from the start.

Minnesota left the bases loaded in the first, and Fister got out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the second after he stepped toward third and threw back to first to catch Jamey Carroll off base for the second out of the inning.

With two outs in the third, Morneau and Plouffe hit back-to-back homers. Morneau’s opposite-field shot was his fifth homer of the year and first since coming off the disabled list. He returned to the lineup Wednesday night after being on the DL since May 1 with a sore left wrist.

“Him driving the ball the other way is huge,” Gardenhire said. “He starts getting a little pull happy at times, and if he’s staying on the ball like that and gets the barrel on it, that’s all he has to do is put a nice swing on the ball.”

Fister, who missed most of April with a left side strain, hadn’t allowed a run at Comerica Park since Aug. 30.

Minnesota added a crucial run in the fifth after Fielder failed to catch Fister’s throw to first on Josh Willingham’s tapper. Willingham went all the way to third on the play, and Morneau drove him home with a groundball.

Fister allowed four runs — three earned — and nine hits in six innings. He struck out five and walked two.

Boesch’s homer in the bottom of the inning was Detroit’s first hit off Walters. Dirks and Fielder added solo shots of their own in the sixth.

NOTES: Boesch extended his hitting streak to 10 games. … Detroit RHP Luis Marte (left hamstring strain) has been assigned to Class A Lakeland as part of an injury rehabilitation assignment. … Detroit sends Justin Verlander (4-1) to the mound Friday to start a three-game series against Pittsburgh. Charlie Morton (2-3) starts for the Pirates. … The Twins are at Milwaukee. Scott Diamond (2-0) will start for Minnesota on Friday against Marco Estrada (0-2).