"Not trying to kill anything, not trying to get a hit, not trying to get a knock or anything," J.D. Martinez said after his sacrifice fly sent the Tigers off with a 4-3 win Sunday afternoon and a weekend series victory over the Twins at Comerica Park. "I was just trying to look for the ball up and hit it on the barrel. That's it. Don't try to do too much."
It was a gift of sorts in a game that saw the Tigers struggle for hits with runners in scoring position, even hot-hitting rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez. The way their fortunes have been going the past few weeks, they're not about to apologize.
"It was huge for us," manager Brad Ausmus said of Arcia's error. "And I don't mind actually having those breaks once in a while."
The Tigers don't have time to worry about the Twins' woes when they've had their own issues to handle, including their own share of plays Sunday.
They watched a shutout bid from Rick Porcello quickly turn into a 3-2 deficit after the Twins' sixth-inning rally, the go-ahead tally coming when Kendrys Morales rumbled home from second base on Kurt Suzuki's single to left. J.D. Martinez's throw beat Morales home, but it took a hop that left catcher Alex Avila in between on how to handle it.
"Either I have to go up and get it, or I can take a step back," Avila said. "I didn't take a step back, though, because out of habit, I'm always worried about the ball hitting the runner. Obviously, Morales wasn't anywhere near me at that point."
Porcello allowed a hit and two walks over five innings and two turns through the Twins' order. Like his previous two starts, his third trip through the lineup was a costly one. Unlike last Monday in Chicago, he pitched past it and delivered a seventh quality inning, keeping the Tigers close for Nick Castellanos' game-tying double in the bottom of the sixth while also resting the bullpen.
It was the fourth consecutive quality start for a Tigers rotation that had been struggling to cover innings for a stretch.
"That's the biggest thing," Porcello said. "We need to get back to doing what we do best. These past couple starts, we've done that. We've added some stability into games and pitched deeper into games. It starts with our starting pitching."
There was an extended eighth inning for Joba Chamberlain, who got Morales swinging at a full-count offering for what should've been the third out of the inning before it skipped away from Avila for a wild pitch. After a five-pitch walk to Arcia moved pinch-runner Pedro Florimon into scoring position, Suzuki came up again with another chance to put Minnesota in front.
He nearly did, sending a fly ball to right field that sent Torii Hunter racing towards the line.
"He hit it pretty good, actually, and it sliced away from me," Hunter said, "so I had to try to cover some ground. I was playing him shallow, because I didn't want the ball to dump in. I wanted him to beat me over my head. Twenty percent of the time, he's hitting them over my head, but 80 percent of the time it's in front of me. So I want to take away his 80 percent."
Hunter ran it down. And as he made the long trot from the right-field corner to the third-base dugout, Chamberlain was waiting to thank him between the mound and third base. He wasn't heading in until Hunter headed in.
"You have to give him that respect," Chamberlain said. "Players like that rise to the occasion, no matter what the situation. He's done it for a long time."
Said Hunter: "That's what I'm here for. I'm here to try to save my guys like that in the outfield with plays like that."
The Tigers went 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position for the day, and one of the hits was a first-inning fly ball from Victor Martinez that Arcia never spotted as it went over his head to score Ian Kinsler. They saw a risky move by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to intentionally walk Avila and load the bases with one out in the sixth pay off when Suarez popped up the first pitch he saw for an infield fly and Kinsler flew out to right, keeping the game tied.
When Kinsler's eighth-inning drive to left died at the warning track, the Tigers had 11 runners left on base. Joe Nathan's scoreless ninth, overcoming two hits to get lineouts from Danny Santana and Brian Dozier, gave them another chance.
Hunter's leadoff single off former Tigers pitcher Casey Fien (3-3) set him up for another mad dash on Victor Martinez's drive to the fence.
"As soon as I hit it, I saw that ball was going," Martinez said. "I hit that ball good. It went up in the air and that wind was stronger than me."
Arcia camped under it, but never got it.
"He just missed it," Gardenhire said.
Hunter positioned himself near second base as the ball died on the track, then took off from there, making J.D. Martinez's job simple. Gardenhire tried to appeal that Hunter took off too soon on the sacrifice fly, but didn't get it.
"It was a break," Ausmus said, "but I'll take it."