DETROIT — On Saturday night, the Detroit Tigers didn’t look like a team that was ready to break a season-long streak of futility.
The Tigers were 0-54 this year when trailing after eight innings and had lost six of seven games overall. But the Tigers overcame a five-run deficit to beat the Minnesota Twins 12-11 on Justin Upton‘s two-run homer in the ninth inning.
“I’m pretty sure that no one in this clubhouse knew that we were 0-54,” Upton said. “We know that, despite everything, we’ve fought to the end of every game. It didn’t pay off the first 54 times, but it did tonight.”
The Tigers blew their own five-run lead before coming back to end Minnesota’s six-game winning streak.
“That’s a game that has a huge range of emotions,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “We’re up big and blow it, get down big and come back to win it. That’s probably the best-tasting win of the year.”
The loss, combined with Kansas City’s win, means the Twins lead the Royals and Tampa Bay Rays by a half-game in the wild-card race.
“It’s an ugly, tough loss to take,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “We need to win games, but we had 11 runs and 19 hits and couldn’t win.”
After James McCann hit a grand slam in a five-run first inning against Jose Berrios, the Twins tied the score 5-5 in the third, then scored twice in the fourth, once in the fifth and three times in the sixth for an 11-6 lead.
Shane Greene (3-2) escaped a bases-loaded jam when he struck out Miguel Sano on a slider. Mikie Mahtook singled against Belisle (0-2) starting the bottom half and Upton drove a high 2-1 fastball into the left-field seats.
“I was trying to stay patient, and he threw me a fastball up and over the middle,” Upton said. “I knew it was gone off the bat.”
Belisle, who took over as the closer when Brandon Kintzler was traded to Washington, was quick to blame himself for the defeat.
“A fastball teed up right down the middle is a tough pitch to get away with in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take full accountability for that and the loss tonight.”
Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann allowed seven runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings, while Berrios gave up six runs and six hits in 3 1/3 innings.
“Even at 5-0 down, we thought we still had a chance,” Mauer said. “It was just a crazy game.”
Minnesota’s Byron Buxton homered leading off the fourth, sprinting around the bases at top speed until third-base coach Gene Glynn informed him the ball was in the seats.