Tigers avoid Twins sweep, stretch Central lead
The Detroit Tigers gave themselves a little breathing room in the AL Central.
Placido Polanco drove in three runs, Detroit's bullpen pitched four shutout innings and the Tigers avoided a three-game sweep with a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday to increase their division lead to three games.
Ryan Raburn homered for slumping Detroit, which won for the second time in six games and fourth in 13.
"We needed this one," pitcher Nate Robertson said. "You play here and the Twins get the first two, they sniff sweep. I've seen it a few times."
Minnesota, which had won six straight, got two hits from Joe Mauer, who increased his batting average to a major league-best .374. The race between the Tigers and Twins is the tightest in any division.
"I guess we'll have to take two out of three and now go on a long road trip," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We'll see if we can hang in there until we get back to Detroit and go from there."
The teams meet again for four games at Comerica Park beginning Sept. 28. That will wrap up a 10-game road trip for Minnesota, and begin a seven-game, final-week homestand for the Tigers, who have three games each in Cleveland and Chicago before going home.
"From the beginning, every game was important and now it's even more," Polanco said. "Every time you beat those guys you don't have to look at the scoreboard."
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In his fourth start after missing two months following elbow surgery, Robertson (2-2) went deep in the count against many hitters but allowed just five hits and two earned runs in five innings.
Zach Miner, Bobby Seay and Fernando Rodney combined to allow two singles in four scoreless innings of relief for Detroit.
"Miner did a hell of a job, and then Bobby got a big double-play ball," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Those key outs came after Mauer led off the eighth inning with a single, and ended the hopes of 36,335 in attendance for a second consecutive rally. Minnesota scored five runs in the eighth Saturday for a 6-2 win.
Scott Baker (13-9), who was 4-1 in his previous seven starts, allowed eight hits and four earned runs in 4 2-3 innings. In three starts against the Tigers this year, Baker has given up 15 earned runs in 15 innings.
"Whatever their numbers are, if you make good pitches you can get those guys out," he said. "Even though I felt like I threw OK, I just gave up too many hits."
Baker opened the fifth by walking Gerald Laird and allowing a single to Ramon Santiago. Polanco drove in both with a single to right field two batters later for a 4-2 lead. Polanco was 6 for 11 in the three-game series and is hitting .365 against the Twins this year.
Raburn homered leading off the eighth, and Polanco had a sacrifice fly in the inning.
Detroit tied the score at 1 in the fourth when Magglio Ordonez singled with two outs off Baker and scored on a triple by Carlos Guillen. Ordonez is hitting .444 against Baker, tops among all active players with at least 25 plate appearances against the right-hander. Guillen is hitting .440 against Baker.
Nick Punto had an RBI single in the home half for a 2-1 Minnesota lead.
"I don't want to sound like a prophet, but I said a long time ago, at the start of the season, that there was a good chance this thing would go to the last week, to the last few games, and it's going to," Leyland said. "It's nice to be three instead of one, but it's going to go down to the wire."
Minnesota rookies dressed as Teletubbies as the team headed off for its final road trip. ... Denard Span, who was hitting .467 against Detroit this year, struck out four times. ... Laird, who threw out two baserunners Saturday, cut down Punto on Sunday. Laird has thrown out an AL-best 42 percent of attempted base stealers. ... Detroit has just one error in its last 18 games. ... Before the game, Minnesota 3B Joe Crede said he plans to have surgery this week to remove fluid from a herniated disk that is impeding on a nerve. It will be his third back surgery in three years.