Upton walk-off blast lifts Tigers over Twins
DETROIT — Justin Upton and the Detroit Tigers exposed a shortcoming the Minnesota Twins will have to address if they hope to be successful in their run at the leaders in the American League Central Division — the bullpen.
Minnesota, without a defined closer since dealing Brandon Kintzler at the trade deadline in July, saw Matt Belisle get tagged for a game-winning walk-off two-run homer with nobody out in the ninth inning Saturday night to give the Tigers a comeback 12-11 victory over the Twins.
Belisle (0-2) struck out Ian Kinsler to choke off a three-run rally in the eight but Minnesota’s current saves leader — with two — gave up a single to leadoff man Mikie Mahtook in the ninth and then Upton’s 22nd home run sailed into the left field seats off a 2-1 fastball. It was his sixth walk-off homer.
“In terms of the taste of the win, this was the best-tasting win of the year,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said, “a tremendous team win with a lot of people involved.”
“We kept battling man, that’s the thing,” Upton said. “That’s the biggest thing. Even though we gave away a big lead, we still grinded at-bats and just kept chipping away.
“I was patient at the beginning of the at-bat. I got myself in a hitter’s count (2-0) and he threw a pretty good pitch, a little slider away. Then he went to the fastball and I was able to get it elevated.”
“There’s not much you can say,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s tough to swallow, those kind, especially when you need to win games. We did a lot of good things; you get 19 hits and 11 runs and can’t win.”
The win went to Tigers’ closer Shane Greene (3-2), brought in to keep the deficit at one run. He left the bases loaded by striking out Miguel Sano on three straight sliders.
Detroit blew a 5-0 first-inning lead and trailed 11-6 in the seventh before mounting its comeback.
Joe Mauer hit a three-run double and added a two-run homer to drive in five runs for Minnesota.
Jose Iglesias hit a two-run homer, his fourth home run of the year, in the eighth inning after James McCann reached a career-best five RBIs by hitting into a force-out with runners on first and third. McCann’s grand slam in the first put the Tigers on top 5-0.
Dillon Gee allowed a sacrifice fly to Upton after Mahtook’s one-out triple in the seventh. Reliever Trevor Hildenberger gave up McCann’s RBI groundout and the Iglesias home run, which made it 11-10.
“Games like that, winning games are fun,” Mahtook said. “Whether or not people are counting us out or not, that has nothing to do with it. Now you’re playing for the guys in here and because you’re competitive and you want to win.
“You’re not going to go out there and be okay with losing games just because we’re supposed to lose games.
“It really is a testament to the veteran leadership here, with Kinsler and Upton and Miggy and all those guys. They come out every day and they’re going to grind it out.”
Mauer, a career .303 hitter against Detroit in 733 at-bats, hit a two-run homer off reliever Edward Mujica in the sixth and Byron Buxton added a sacrifice fly later in the inning to pad the Twins’ lead to 11-6. Mauer’s sixth home run, to left-center field, was his 16th against Detroit in his career and his five RBIs gave him 114 versus the Tigers.
“We had chances even though we scored 11 to score more than 11,” Molitor said. “You never know how many you’re going to need and we didn’t have enough.”
Reliever Daniel Stumpf gave up an RBI single to Jason Castro in the fifth, giving Minnesota an 8-6 lead.
McCann doubled to open the fourth for Detroit and eventually scored when Iglesias hit into a forceout at second, pulling the Tigers within a run at 7-6. Minnesota starter Jose Berrios was pulled after hitting the next batter, Ian Kinsler.
Buxton led off the fourth with his sixth home run, which was just over the wall in right-center field and gave the Twins a 6-5 lead. Jorge Polanco ran his hitting streak to 10 games with a single to right and scored on a line single to left by Brian Dozier that chased starter Jordan Zimmermann and put Minnesota ahead 7-5.
Zimmermann pitched two scoreless innings before allowing five in the third and two in the fourth to fritter away a 5-0 lead. He gave up eight hits in 3 1/3 innings, walking one and striking out one.
Mauer hit a three-run double with one out in the third to cut into a 5-0 Detroit lead and Eddie Rosario tied the score by hitting his 16th home run one out later. Rosario’s second home run in two games went over the wall in right-center field.
Berrios gave up five runs to Detroit in the first, one on an RBI single by Nicholas Castellanos and four on a grand slam by McCann, his 11th home run and second career slam. Berrios lasted 3 1/3 innings, giving up six runs and six hits with two walks.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera left the game after six innings with lower-back tightness.
NOTES: Tigers 3B Nicholas Castellanos will begin taking fly balls in right field to see if that’s a viable option for 2018, manager Brad Ausmus said. ... Minnesota’s Paul Molitor learned after Friday night’s 9-4 victory over Detroit that it was his 200th as the club’s manager. ... The Tigers brought OF Alex Presley (right side strain) back from a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo and put him in the starting lineup. OF JIm Adduci was sent back to the Mud Hens. ... With RHP Brandon Kintzler traded, the Twins don’t have a set closer, so Molitor said Minnesota will continue to mix and match at the end of games.