Twins unable to overcome Justin Verlander's arm, Miguel Cabrera's bat
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins made a late push against Detroit's bullpen, but ultimately Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander were too much to overcome in a 6-4 Tigers victory.
The 2011 AL MVP dominated Twins hitters, and the man who might be leading the 2012 AL MVP race provided a late dagger.
Verlander held the Twins to just one unearned run on four hits through seven-plus innings, striking out eight while walking two. As his outing wound down, Cabrera put the game mostly out of reach.
In the top of the eighth inning, Casey Fien relieved Alex Burnett with runners on first and second to face Cabrera, who hit a rocket into the left-field seats to put the Tigers up 5-0. With that home run, Cabrera moved back into a tie for the AL home run lead (43) while extending his leads in the RBI (136) and batting average (.327) categories.
After Verlander was taken out of the game, the Twins loaded the bases with one out against right-hander Joaquin Benoit, and the red-hot Ryan Doumit cleared them with an opposite-field grand slam to left.
Later in the inning, the Twins had runners on first and third with two outs, but Al Albuquerque was able to freeze Pedro Florimon with a breaking ball to end the inning.
Coupled with a White Sox loss to the Rays, the Tigers opened up a two-game lead in the American League Central with only four games to go.
P.J. Walters put together his third straight solid start, holding the Tigers to just two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out five in five innings.
Walters, whose season was interrupted by a strained shoulder, finishes with a 5.69 ERA and 42 strikeouts to only 22 walks in 61 2/3 innings. The only time he completed more than 6 1/3 innings was his complete-game shutout of the White Sox on May 22. Walters was able to hold opponents to three runs or fewer in seven of his 12 outings.
"Obviously I missed a lot of time being hurt," Walters said. "That's something I've never done before so hopefully we can kind of be past that. Looking at today, you score four runs off of Verlander, we need to win that game. We lost by two, that's two runs I gave up."
The Tigers scored their first two runs in the second inning on a solo homer by Prince Fielder and an RBI double by Jhonny Peralta. Andy Dirks hit a solo home run off Fien shortly after Cabrera's three-run blast.
Joe Mauer finished the day 0-for-3 with two walks, lowering his batting average to .320, but he remains within striking distance of Cabrera.
The Twins ran into classic Verlander in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Trailing by two, Ben Revere singled and stole second base to start the inning. Mauer then took a close breaking ball to draw a walk, putting runners on first and second with nobody out for the power part of the Twins' batting order.
But Verlander buckled down and struck out Justin Morneau, Doumit and Chris Parmelee, all swinging, to end the inning.
"That's that extra he keeps in his tank," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can do that -- 96, 97 in big situations. He knows how important that part of the game was. He really started to let it fly there for a couple innings. And that's what he brings to the table. That's why he's won a Cy Young and is probably up there again."
117: Pitches thrown by Verlander
0: The number of times a Twins pitcher has thrown 117 pitches or more in a game this season
14: The number of times Verlander has thrown at least 117 pitches in a game this season
18: Home runs for Doumit. "If you talked to him a week ago or maybe not even that long ago he'd tell you that he really feels like he's scuffling," Gardenhire said. "So it shows how the game changes. A couple good ballgames in a row and now he's hot as fire. That's the nature of this game. You go through periods where you don't see anything and don't get the barrel on anything and then it starts to flow. He's had a heck of a year for us and he did it again today and got us back in the game."
39: Stolen bases for Revere
OF Josh Willingham remains sidelined with a strained left shoulder.
Sunday: vs. Tigers, 1:10 p.m. RHP Liam Hendriks (1-8, 6.09) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (4-6, 3.95)
Monday: @ Blue Jays, 6:07 p.m. RHP Esmerling Vasquez (0-2, 5.88) vs. LHP Aaron Laffey (4-6, 4.52)
Tuesday: @ Blue Jays, 6:07 p.m. TBD vs. RHP Carlos Villanueva (7-7, 4.16)