The Tigers' Max Scherzer pitches against the Twins during the first inning.
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Detroit Tigers had a seemingly comfortable six-run lead with one out in the ninth inning when the Minnesota Twins put runners on the corners against reliever Lester Oliveros.
Manager Jim Leyland has seen his team give up too many big leads — in games and in the AL Central division — to the Twins, so he went to closer Jose Valverde just to be absolutely certain another one didn’t get away.
Valverde got the game-ending double play and Jhonny Peralta finished a triple short of the cycle with four RBIs to lift Detroit to an 8-2 victory Friday night, the Tigers’ 11th straight win over their division rivals.
“I really didn’t want to go to Valverde there, but we had to,” Leyland said.
Better safe than sorry.
Max Scherzer (11-5) gave up one run and four hits in seven innings and Ryan Raburn also homered for the Tigers, who picked up a game on second-place Cleveland and pushed the Twins seven games back in the division.
Brian Duensing (7-8) was rocked for seven runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings for the Twins, who have dropped the first two games in a home series they were hoping to use to pick up some ground on the division leaders.
Jim Thome had two hits and an RBI for Minnesota.
Peralta hit a solo homer in the second inning, a two-run single in the third and an RBI-double in the fifth that made it 7-1 and chased Duensing. The lefty had seven strikeouts, including five in the first two innings. But he also gave up a solo shot to Raburn in the first inning.
“He’s in the midst of a real good year,” Leyland said of Peralta. “He’s got a lot of confidence and he’s right after the so-called big guys. He’s really been a perfect fit for us in that area.”
All nine Tigers starters had a hit in the game, a dominating offensive performance that allowed Scherzer to relax against a team that has given him all sorts of problems early in his career. The right-hander had allowed six or more runs in three of his previous four starts against the Twins and was 0-1 with a 7.43 ERA in his two previous outings at Target Field.
It was an entirely different story Friday night. Scherzer struck out four and gave up his only run on a groundout from Danny Valencia in the second inning. He allowed two hits and a walk over his final five innings.
Maybe the Tigers’ fortunes are changing right along with Scherzer’s. They have struggled mightily in the second half of the season over the last few years, and the Twins have always been there to take advantage of those stumbles and surge to another division title.
The Tigers are 7-0 against the Twins this year and haven’t lost to Minnesota since Sept. 1.
“We know that we can win this division,” Scherzer said. “We know that we’re good. We know we’ve got the talent. We just feel like if we go out there and compete every day and keep these win streaks going, we’re going to be the team on top.”
Leyland certainly wasn’t ready to do any gloating just yet. He’s seen the Twins come back from bigger deficits to catch them before.
“They really haven’t had their full complement of players for some of those games,” Leyland said. “That’s got something to do with it, no question.”
The Twins are in the middle of a 12-game homestand that they hoped would thrust them right back into the thick of the Central race. After taking three of four from the Royals, they split with the Indians and now can do no better than a split against Detroit.
Duensing has been terrible in his two starts against the Tigers this season, giving up 13 runs and 18 hits in 9 1-3 innings, good for a 12.54 ERA. Carlos Guillen, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez took him deep into the count through the first three innings, forcing him to throw 69 pitches on a hot summer night.
“He was off the plate, off the plate and got behind,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Eventually it’s going to make you pay.”
Jason Kubel had a single and two walks in his first game for the Twins since May 30.
NOTES: Pitch count? What pitch count? One night after Justin Verlander threw 126 pitches in a win over the Twins, Scherzer threw 120. ... The Twins said they planned to activate RHP Scott Baker (elbow strain) from the DL in time to start Saturday against the Tigers. Baker has missed two starts because of the injury. INF Luke Hughes was optioned to Triple-A Rochester to make room ... The Tigers agreed to terms with third-round draft pick Aaron Westlake, a 1B from Vanderbilt, and 22nd-round pick Tommy Collier, a RHP from San Jacinto.
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