MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers rolled into Target Field on Thursday morning for a long day of work. They left town with an American League Wild Card spot in their grasp. Justin Verlander's six innings of work and Erick Aybar's two RBIs helped Detroit to a doubleheader sweep, capped by a 4-2 win in the nightcap.
The two victories, combined with an Orioles loss to the Red Sox, vaulted Detroit into the second Wild Card spot, taking a half-game lead. Detroit erased a three-game Wild Card deficit by winning its last four games, while the O's were swept by Boston. The Tigers won the season series by taking all nine games at Target Field, the first division foe to go unbeaten at Minnesota since the 1979 Rangers.
"There's still a little bit of stretch run to go," manager Brad Ausmus said, "but we're clearly in the mix. We just have to keep playing good baseball."
The Tigers took care of their own business on Thursday night by scraping out runs against Twins starter Ervin Santana (7-11), who looked unhittable after striking out the side in the first inning. Three consecutive walks, the last to Aybar with the bases loaded, fueled a two-run second inning before solo homers from Juan Centeno and Byron Buxton drew Minnesota even. Aybar singled in the go-ahead run and scored another in the sixth to put the Tigers back in front.
"Our guys came back, bounced back, picked us up, picked me up," Verlander said, "and it was a good win today."
Verlander (15-8), who picked up a hard-luck no-decision in his last start at Cleveland, earned his first win since Aug. 26 without his best stuff, battling command, but tying a season high with 11 strikeouts over six innings.
"Verlander was good," said Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, who saw his career-long hit streak snapped at 24 games. "He kept throwing me that little slider. The first at-bat, he threw all heaters and knew he was setting me up. Then, he threw all offspeed. I didn't see another [fastball] my next two at-bats."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Taking advantage: For the second time on Thursday, the Tigers took advantage of miscues and ran the bases aggressively for a deciding inning. Justin Upton ended up on second base with one out in the sixth thanks to a Dozier error, then scored the go-ahead run on Aybar's ground ball through the middle. Aybar took second on the throw, went to third on a Santana wild pitch, then scored on a Centeno passed ball for a 4-2 lead.
Buck shot: Buxton continued his impressive September with his seventh homer in 20 games this month. Buxton's solo jack off Verlander tied the game in the fifth. It came on a 3-2 fastball, leaving the bat at 104 mph and traveling a projected 418 feet, per Statcast™. The 96.4 mph fastball from Verlander was the hardest pitch Buxton has hit for a homer this year.
"He got a pitch he could handle there," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "It shows you the kind of strength that he has. He's hit them all over the park. To go up over the wall in right-center, not many righties go there. It's just nice to see him stay on the ball and slow his at-bats down."
Verlander strands bases loaded: Though Verlander retired the Twins in order only once in his six innings, he made up for it with timely strikeouts. None were arguably more important than his strikeout of Centeno after hitting Eduardo Escobar with a 1-2 pitch to load bases in the fourth.
"I wasn't sharp, or as sharp as I want to be," Verlander said. "I kind of felt like I got to two strikes a lot and then had trouble putting guys away efficiently. I had a lot of strikeouts, but it took more pitches than I would ideally like to do so."
No assistance needed: Escobar turned an impressive unassisted double play at third base to end the seventh inning. With Jose Iglesias at third with out, Miguel Cabrera ripped a liner to third, but Escobar made a diving snare and promptly got up and dived into third base just ahead of Iglesias for the double play. The line drive from Cabrera had an exit velocity of 102 mph, per Statcast™.
"It was a phenomenal reaction play," Molitor said. "You're in close with the infield in. Just reacting to the ball and he was able to web it. For whatever reason, Iglesias got off third too far and we were able to get off the field."
"Frustrating. Embarrassing. If I were smart enough, I'd give you more words, but that's all I got." -- Dozier, on the Twins going 4-15 against the Tigers, including 0-9 at home
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Verlander became the first Tigers pitcher to give up 30 homers in a season since Mike Maroth in 2005, and the fourth to do it in the Comerica Park era. Maroth gave up 34 in 2003, Hideo Nomo gave up 31 in '00 and Nate Robertson yielded 30 in '04.
Dozier saw his hitting streak end at 24 games, as he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The hit streak was tied for the third-longest in Minnesota history.
KEPLER LEAVES GAME
Twins right fielder Max Kepler had trouble with Iglesias' double down the right-field corner to open the seventh, getting charged with an error that allowed Iglesias to reach third. Kepler ran into the wall on the play, and exited the game in the eighth with a mild neck strain. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Tigers: After a late-night flight home, the Tigers open a three-game series against the Royals on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Michael Fulmer (10-7, 3.03 ERA) will take the mound in search of his first win since Aug. 14, facing Kansas City for the fourth time this season.
Twins: Right-hander Kyle Gibson (6-10, 5.10) will start the series opener against the Mariners on Friday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Gibson lasted five innings last time out, allowing three runs on seven hits in a loss against the Mets.