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Baker, bullpen solid as Twins top Tigers

July 23, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — After watching his teammates drop the first two games of the series, right-hander Scott Baker wanted to do all he could on Saturday to help the Twins get a win. The only thing standing in his way was a 75-80 pitch limit.

Baker squeezed a solid five innings out of his 82 pitches, and the Twins managed, with the help of four relievers, to secure a 4-1 victory over the Tigers at Target Field. With the win, the Twins pulled to within six games of the first-place Tigers.

The Twins will now have an opportunity with a win on Sunday to get back to where they were when the series began, sitting five games back in the American League Central.

“They’re obviously in front of us, and they’re one of the teams that we have to beat,” Baker said. “We’re headed in the right direction. We can compete with those guys, we know that.”

The Twins would have liked to have gotten more than five innings from Baker, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was happy to get the win.

“Honestly, we started getting a guy up in the fourth, at one point,” Gardenhire said. “We just didn’t want him to extend out too awful much. We’re still trying to feel our way through and see how he’s doing.”

After finishing the fourth inning with 72 pitches, Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson asked Baker how he was feeling.

Baker told them he could go another inning, and he got out of the fifth having faced just three batters.

“Today, given the situation, even with the pitch count, I didn’t want to give in to these guys,” Baker said. “They’re a good hitting lineup, and whether I threw three innings or five innings or six innings or whatever, I didn’t want to throw it over the plate and allow them to get something going.”

Thanks to Baker’s outing and a solid offensive performance, the Twins beat the Tigers for the first time since Sept. 1, 2010, snapping an 11-game losing streak against their AL Central rivals.

Baker blanked Detroit on three hits and a walk in his first start since July 5, a game which left with right elbow soreness. After giving up a pair of singles in the first, Baker cruised through the fifth, facing just one over the minimum with five strikeouts.

“[Baker] is very good at getting you out on high fastballs,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “He’s got late life to it, he’s sneaky on top and he gets you to chase the ball just out of the strike zone. We were probably a little over-aggressive. He pitched a very good game coming back.”

But with Baker only going five innings, it marked the fifth consecutive game in which the bullpen was needed for three innings or more.

Anthony Swarzak, Phil Dumatrait, Glen Perkins and Joe Nathan combined to finish out the last four innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk. Nathan pitched the ninth for his seventh save, moving him within one save of tying Rick Aguilera for the Twins’ all-time saves record.

“Swarzy came in and did what he had to do; that’s a tough lineup over there with a lot of veteran hitters who shoot the ball all over the place,” Gardenhire said. “Duma came in and got the first-pitch double-play ball, which was huge in that inning, and got through it.

“You give the ball to Perk, and what can you say? He got in a little jam there, but goodness, he’s throwing the ball so well. Then Nathan finishes it off.”

First baseman Miguel Cabrera drove in the Tigers’ only run with a double in the sixth off Swarzak, scoring Brennan Boesch from second.

Through the first two games of the series, the Twins’ offense had been shut down by Tigers right-handers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but they finally put some hits together against Brad Penny.

Penny went seven innings, giving up four runs on seven hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

Michael Cuddyer drove in Ben Revere with a single in the first, and Danny Valencia led off the second inning with his 12th home run, a shot into the second deck in left field. The Twins then added two more in the fourth, as Delmon Young drove in Jason Kubel and Valencia with a double to the gap in right.

“These are games where we can catch back up, so we really needed to come out and win today, so we have a chance tomorrow [to] come out and win and be five back,” Young said. “You don’t want to get back down to nine or anything and try to make it up in the second half. You still want to get to Sept. 1 to have a chance to make a run for it.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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