Kenta Maeda allowed a single, a double, a walk and a single with a one-run lead -- and somehow managed to escape with his lead intact.
The Twins didn’t have their preferred starting outfield patrolling the grass at Comerica Park on Wednesday afternoon, but that actually worked out in their favor in the sixth inning, when left fielder Jake Cave and right fielder Kyle Garlick both threw out runners at home plate to preserve Minnesota’s 3-2 lead, which held as the final tally to secure another series victory and a 4-2 season-opening road trip.
“Those are the kinds of plays that win games for you, or on the other end, maybe you don’t win a game when you don’t make those plays,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It took those types of plays, big moments when guys are coming through, to keep us where we needed to be.”
Minnesota scraped together a go-ahead rally in the top of the sixth after Nelson Cruz beat out an infield single upon review and Jorge Polanco followed with a two-run double.
Maeda almost gave the lead right back in a second straight outing in which he didn’t appear to have his best stuff. But his outfielders had his back.
“What a relief,” said Maeda, who allowed two runs on seven hits and one walk in six frames. “It was really a relief to see those two big plays. If it wasn’t for those two plays, I don’t think our team win would have been there.”
Willi Castro singled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and Miguel Cabrera followed with a double that fell just out of reach of Cave’s dive in left field. Cave popped right back up, played the carom off the wall and found cutoff man Andrelton Simmons just behind the third-base bag. Simmons’ off-balance throw home was still in plenty of time for Mitch Garver to put a tag on Castro for the first out.
Cave has had trouble at times with being overly aggressive on such plays, and he has spoken over the years of wanting to make better decisions in the field. Considering that the ball was lined at 105.5 mph with an expected batting average of .580, he could have played with more caution -- but Baldelli commended Cave for seeing the play all the way through for his second assist of the season.
“Once he didn’t make the play, he did not waste any time,” Baldelli said. “He got up. He always plays as hard as can possibly be. Gets the ball in quickly, makes a pretty good throw, Simba makes a great play.”
As Baldelli said, don’t underestimate the importance of Simmons being in position to take that cutoff. Polanco was away covering second, and Simmons had to lunge towards the third-base line to cut the ball off and make an off-balance relay -- and his throw was perfect.
“As soon as he got the ball, he looked to the runner and he made a great play,” Polanco said. “I think Simmons is a good instincts guy.”
The Twins weren’t in the clear yet. Maeda walked Jeimer Candelario and allowed a single to load the bases with one out before Jonathan Schoop lifted a shallow fly ball to right field. Tigers third-base coach Chip Hale sent Cabrera, and Garlick’s 90 mph throw home beat Cabrera to the plate with plenty of time to spare, ending the frame and Detroit's rally with a double play.
"I honestly didn't think he was going to be running,” Garlick said. “It wasn't hit that deep and I was coming in on it, and I was just trying to get rid of it as quickly as I could. It happened to be a pretty good throw."
It marked the first time the Twins had two outfield assists at the plate in one inning since April 10, 2014, when Darin Mastroianni and Aaron Hicks threw out a pair of Oakland runners at home in the sixth inning at Target Field.
As the Twins found out when they had two runners thrown out at the plate during Tuesday’s extra-innings loss, the results of close games often come down to the execution of such non-routine plays. With a pair of well-executed throws on Wednesday, Minnesota got one back.
“There’s no blame to be had there,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously, if they don’t execute, we’re talking about Miggy’s aggressive baserunning. In the results business, it’s tough to make two outs at home there, but the Twins did a great job of executing on both.”