DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario hit ninth-inning home runs off Francisco Rodriguez to send the Twins to their first series win against an American League Central opponent since mid-May, taking the three-game set against the Tigers with a 4-1 win Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Ervin Santana and Justin Verlander gave up first-inning solo homers but settled in from there to deliver a pitchers' duel. While Verlander allowed only one other hit over his eight innings, walking two and striking out nine, Santana scattered six hits with a walk and two strikeouts to match for seven-plus innings.
"Ervin did a great job on the other side," Verlander said. "We knew it was going to be a battle, I think, after about the second or third inning. I don't think you had much of a clue after the first couple hitters on both teams."
Victor Martinez nearly broke the deadlock with a drive to the left-field fence in the eighth, but Rosario ran it down. With a tie game at home, Rodriguez (1-1) entered for the ninth and retired Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier before Kepler sent a changeup out on a line to right field for his 10th homer of the season. Two batters later, Rosario all but sealed it with his fifth homer of the season.
It clinched the Twins' first series win this season against a division opponent other than the Indians.
Twins manager Paul Molitor said it has been an emotional week after the dismissal of longtime general manager Terry Ryan, but he was pleased with the way his offense responded in the last two games after a 1-0 loss on Monday.
"I think that was a nice rebound considering, in particular, the way we lost in the first game and what happened on that day," Molitor said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Late power: Kepler fell behind, 0-2, to Rodriguez with two outs in the ninth before taking three straight pitches to find himself in a full count. Kepler jumped on a changeup on the next pitch and delivered the Twins' first hit since the third inning for a 2-1 lead. After Kennys Vargas reached on an error by Rodriguez, Rosario's two-run homer extended the Twins' lead to 4-1.
"I remember somebody telling me he likes to throw changeups in all his fastball counts," Kepler said. "Luckily he left it up, because if it were down, it probably would have been a good pitch."
Kinsler commences with a crushing shot: Santana had a lead on Joe Mauer's homer before he threw his first pitch of the day, but Ian Kinsler tied it up before Santana could throw another. Kinsler's drive to left marked his fourth leadoff home run of the season and the 36th of his career, one shy of tying Ichiro Suzuki for seventh all-time.
State your case: Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was greeted with loud boos every step of his walk to the mound following Verlander's two-out walk to Eduardo Nunez in the eighth, then cheered when he headed back to the dugout without making a pitching change. In between, Verlander made an emphatic case to stay in. Afterward, Verlander backed it up with fastballs to Mauer, who grounded out to end the threat.
"You always want to finish what you started," Verlander said, "and if I'm going to go out there for that eighth inning, I want to finish the eighth inning. If it's the ninth, I want to finish the ninth. Sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise, but [today] wasn't one of those situations, and it wasn't like I was at 120 pitches. He showed some faith in me there, and I was glad to be able to get Joe out."
"I liked today in particular, because I'm going to speculate that [Kepler] has been paying attention and watching [Rodriguez] pitch. When he's needed a pitch behind, he's kind of one of those backwards guys that relies on deception. He got the changeup 3-2, and he deposited it." -- Molitor, on Kepler's ninth-inning homer
WHAT'S NEXT Twins: The Twins head for the second leg of their seven-game road trip, a four-game series at Boston. Tyler Duffey makes the start on Thursday at 6:10 p.m. CT, bringing a 3-0 record and 3.10 ERA in his last four starts into the contest. Minnesota has won the last five games that Duffey has started.
Tigers:Mike Pelfrey will lead the Tigers into U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday to open a four-game series against the White Sox with an 8:10 p.m. ET start. Pelfrey lost to the White Sox in Chicago last month with four runs allowed over six innings, but kept the ball in the park.