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Twins halt Tigers from gaining in playoff race

MLB.com

DETROIT -- The Twins threw another wrench into the Tigers' late-season playoff drive and spoiled ex-teammate Mike Pelfrey's return to Detroit's rotation. Brian Dozier's two-run single punctuated a four-run second inning, providing Hector Santiago and Minnesota's bullpen all the support they needed for a 5-1 win on Thursday afternoon and a four-game series split at Comerica Park.

The loss dropped the Tigers two games behind the Blue Jays for the second AL Wild Card spot, and into a tie with the surging Seattle Mariners. Detroit remains six games behind Cleveland in the AL Central race heading into their three-game series beginning Friday at Progressive Field.

Full Game Coverage

DETROIT -- The Twins threw another wrench into the Tigers' late-season playoff drive and spoiled ex-teammate Mike Pelfrey's return to Detroit's rotation. Brian Dozier's two-run single punctuated a four-run second inning, providing Hector Santiago and Minnesota's bullpen all the support they needed for a 5-1 win on Thursday afternoon and a four-game series split at Comerica Park.

The loss dropped the Tigers two games behind the Blue Jays for the second AL Wild Card spot, and into a tie with the surging Seattle Mariners. Detroit remains six games behind Cleveland in the AL Central race heading into their three-game series beginning Friday at Progressive Field.

Full Game Coverage

"It's not what you want," said manager Brad Ausmus, whose team finished 3-4 on the homestand. "It's not a great homestand. At a time we have to win, we lose four out of seven. We can't do anything about it now, so we'll move forward."

Pelfrey (4-10), who received a spot start following Jordan Zimmermann's rough return from the disabled list last weekend, retired the top of the Twins lineup in order in the first inning before four consecutive hits doomed him in the second. He was on the verge of escaping with two runs allowed when he fell behind on Dozier, who swung and missed at the next two pitches before connecting with a splitter.

Pelfrey was the third consecutive Tigers starter knocked out without recording an out in the fifth. Unlike Anibal Sanchez the night before, the Tigers couldn't rally for him, as their inconsistent offense against left-handed starters continued. Santiago (12-8) held Detroit to one run over 5 2/3 innings for his second win in his last three outings.

"Those guys were super aggressive today and missed a bunch of fastballs," Santiago said. "I just kept pounding them in there. Except for the ball that [Miguel] Cabrera hit [in the fifth], I had pretty good fastball command. I think those guys are always aggressive. They want to hit."

Video: MIN@DET: Santiago gets Kinsler swinging in the 3rd

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Twins put up four-spot: Pelfrey was knocked out early, as the Twins got to their former teammate for four runs in the second. Max Kepler and Eduardo Escobar had RBI singles, but it was Dozier who delivered the knockout blow with a two-run single with two outs. Dozier came to the plate with first base empty, but the Tigers opted to pitch to him, and it backfired.

"Our guys were trying to attack the fastball today and make [Pelfrey] use other pitches," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We put some hits together early to get on the board. Dozier's two-out single was the biggest hit of the game. Going from two to four with two outs, those are big runs to put on the board."

Video: MIN@DET: Kepler's RBI single opens the scoring

Tigers pay for pitching to Dozier: The Tigers had the option to walk Dozier and load the bases for Jorge Polanco once Pelfrey fell behind on a 2-0 count. With lefty Blaine Hardy warming up and the switch-hitting Polanco batting .400 (18-for-45) off southpaws, however, Ausmus stuck with Pelfrey, who got back-to-back swings and misses from Dozier before he connected with a 2-2 splitter low and lined his single to left.

"I thought it was a good pitch if I'm going to go after him," Pelfrey said. "Maybe I should've been smarter. He's the hottest hitter on the planet. Maybe I should've walked him with first base open and tried to go after Polanco. But you get in the game, you get caught up in going after guys. Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing in hindsight."

Said catcher James McCann: "He hit it off the end of the bat and blooped it in. Yeah, maybe we try to get him to fish, and it's a different ballgame, different at-bat. But it wasn't like we grooved him a heater and said, 'Here you go, hit it.' We were trying to work the count to make him hit our pitch."

Buxton shows off speed: Byron Buxton smoked a triple into the left-center-field gap with two outs in the seventh with the liner leaving the bat at 111 mph, per Statcast™. Buxton made it to third in 10.83 seconds, which is the third-fastest time by a right-handed hitter this season. Buxton also holds the top two marks of 10.69 and 10.75 seconds. But he was stranded at third after an intentional walk to Dozier, as Polanco struck out swinging. He later added an RBI single in the ninth off reliever Mark Lowe to give Minnesota an insurance run.

"[Buxton's] series was a little bit up and down, but he stayed with it," Molitor said. "You see the speed. He hits a line drive out of the infield and gets three. And then Lowe left him a pitch there with two strikes, but he handled it. It was good way for him to end the series."

Video: MIN@DET: Buxton hits top speed of 21.2 mph on triple

Two Tigers drives fall short: On a cool afternoon with the wind blowing in, the Tigers had two chances at three-run homers fall short at the warning track. Cabrera's fifth-inning drive to center was projected at 417 feet; with a 109-mph exit velocity and a 33-degree launch angle, the combination had resulted in home runs on the four other times it has happened this season. In this case, it took Buxton to the fence before corralling it. An inning later, Andrew Romine stepped up as the potential tying run and sent a drive to the right-field track before Kepler caught it.

QUOTABLE
"How does it feel not winning the series against a team like the Twins? At this point, it doesn't matter who's in the opposing dugout. We have to win ballgames. That's what's most important. Personal stats aside, team's gotta find a way to win. That's where we are at this point in the season, no ifs, ands or butts about it." -- McCann

REPLAY REVIEW
Ausmus challenged a fourth-inning call at first base almost immediately, arguing Cabrera held his foot on first base despite McCann's high throw after Hardy's pitch in the dirt struck out Buxton. After watching the replay on the scoreboard, Tigers players were walking off the field before the call was overturned, ending the inning.

Video: MIN@DET: Buxton ruled out at first after a challenge

WHAT'S NEXT
Twins: The Twins head to New York for an Interleague series against the Mets that begins on Friday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Rookie right-hander Jose Berrios (2-6, 9.27 ERA) is set to make the start after meeting with the coaching staff about his struggles on Tuesday.

Tigers: Detroit begins a three-game AL Central showdown at Cleveland on Friday with a 7:10 p.m. ET game at Progressive Field. Michael Fulmer (10-6, 2.76) gets the starting assignment for the series opener opposite fellow AL Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber (16-9, 3.05).

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.