By Rhett Bollinger and Alejandro Zúñiga
DETROIT -- Ervin Santana kept his impressive run going, as he tossed seven strong innings and was backed by a six-run second in a 7-1 win over the Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park.
The win gave the Twins (80-75) the series victory and kept them alive in the race for the second American League Wild Card spot with seven games left in the season. After the Astros' 4-2 win over the Rangers on Sunday, Minnesota remains 1 1/2 games back.
Santana was sharp, allowing one run on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts to win his fifth straight decision. It was also his sixth straight start of going at least seven innings. He didn't allow a run until a two-out RBI double from Josh Wilson in the seventh.
"You don't ever want to get too comfortable this time of year, but Ervin seemed like he was in control," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "The first inning, for me, was huge. They had a couple hits out of the chute, and sometimes it takes a little while for him to get settled into what he has. So to get out of that first inning unscathed was important."
Santana was spotted an early 6-0 lead with Tigers veteran Randy Wolf struggling through 1 2/3 innings. The 39-year-old gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and a walk. Lefty Kyle Ryan tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Wolf.
"There comes a point, especially when you're ahead in the count two strikes and trying to put a guy away, where you need to expand off the zone," Wolf said. "I had a couple chances to do that, and I wasn't able to do that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Six-run second propels Twins: The Twins essentially put the game away early, scoring six runs in the second against Wolf. Eduardo Nunez started the rally with a single before third baseman Nick Castellanos made an error on a potential double-play ball hit by Eduardo Escobar. It snowballed from there, as Kurt Suzuki came through with an RBI single before Buxton smacked an RBI double to left-center. Brian Dozier followed with a two-run double before Aaron Hicks and Torii Hunter tacked on RBI singles.
"When it's this late in the season and we're trying to make a playoff push, we're trying to capitalize as much as we can," Buxton said. "And that error was a big part of that today."
Avila makes most of start: Weeks before catcher Alex Avila enters free agency, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus started the veteran in the club's final home game of the season. Avila took advantage of the opportunity, lining a two-out double in the second inning -- his third extra-base hit in nine games this month. In the fourth inning, a bid at an opposite-field home run died at the warning track, and the catcher worked a walk in the ninth.
"It didn't really hit me until right before going out there that it could be my last one," Avila said. "I would have liked it to have ended differently -- that's how the game went. But I enjoyed myself." More >
Santana stays hot: Since lasting 2 2/3 innings against the Rays on Aug. 25, Santana has turned around his season with a streak of six straight starts of going at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer runs in each of those outings. Santana has a 1.47 ERA over that stretch to lower his ERA from 6.05 to 4.10.
"I've been pitching better," Santana said. "Like if I said before, I've been working hard during bullpens, and you can see the difference right now." More >
Ryan minimizes damage: Detroit's bullpen entered with a 4.52 ERA, second-worst in the American League. Sunday, though, they surrendered just one run over 7 1/3 innings after Wolf couldn't escape the second. Ryan delivered 4 1/3 scoreless frames, becoming the first Tigers reliever since 2013 to pitch more than four innings without allowing a run.
"His stuff plays to a reliever," Ausmus said. "He has pitched very well his last couple of outings."
"I don't know what the odds were higher on -- Buxton's first homer or [Miguel] Sano's first triple -- but we got them both out of the way." -- Molitor, on the rookies both achieving firsts More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When Kepler batted in the ninth inning, he became the 43rd German native to have an at-bat in a Major League game. Kepler, who hails from Berlin, is considered the highest-profile prospect to be signed out of Europe in baseball history. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 2009 for $800,000.
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: The Twins head to Cleveland for a crucial four-game series that begins on Monday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Right-hander Phil Hughes (11-9, 4.43 ERA) starts for the Twins, and is set for a rematch against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. Hughes got the win in their last meeting on Wednesday, tossing five scoreless innings.
Tigers:Justin Verlander (4-8, 3.49 ERA) takes the hill as Detroit begins a three-game series against the Rangers in Arlington. The ace has pitched to a 2.27 ERA over his last 12 starts and has regained the velocity that made him so effective in 2013 and before. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. ET.