PAUL BATTAGLIA / AP Enlarge
MINNEAPOLIS - Brian Duensing left the mound to a rousing ovation for his performance Friday that helped push Minnesota within three games of Detroit for the AL Central lead.
Showing his age, Duensing wasn't sure about protocol. Tip his cap to acknowledge the crowd, or just keep walking?
That was the only sign of his rookie status, though. He pitched with the poise of a seasoned pro.
Michael Cuddyer's two-run homer was all Duensing needed, energizing the Twins in a 3-0 victory over the Tigers Friday night.
"He wasn't scared of any of those guys," Cuddyer said. "He went out there, pounded the strike zone. That was huge, and hopefully he can continue to be huge for us."
This is the closest the Twins (75-72) have been to first place since Aug. 2. They're 6-1 at home this year against Detroit.
"He kept us off balance, move the ball around, went in and out," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Was he overpowering? No. Did he show great stuff? No. But he showed good stuff, and he showed tremendous pitchability."
Duensing gave up two infield singles among just four hits and only one walk over 61/3 innings, before yielding to the bullpen to finish Minnesota's fifth straight victory. Joe Nathan posted his 42nd save, allowing a walk and a double with two outs before finishing a scoreless ninth.
"We haven't hit a lot this year, really to be honest with you," Leyland said. "But it's time for the stars to shine."
As the Tigers (78-69) have stumbled since Labor Day, failing to get their bats going and take advantage of the assorted problems bothering the Twins and Chicago White Sox, the AL Central has quietly emerged as the one division in baseball this season with an actual pennant chase. Even the wild-card spots in both leagues have been heading toward anticlimactic endings.
These teams play twice more this weekend and four times in Detroit during the final week of the season, though, so it could be quite the finish.
"Fun baseball," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "We don't think about it. We take it one game at a time. We do well, the outcome will be where we want it to be."
The Twins believe the same.
"We're pitching well. We're getting hits when we need 'em, big hits when we need 'em, and we're not making mistakes," Cuddyer said. "That's what we've been accustomed to over the years, and that's what we're going to have to continue to do to continue to climb."
Rick Porcello (13-9) pitched well for the Tigers over six innings, but he made a couple of mistakes. Kubel, who is 7-for-8 this season against the 20-year-old right-hander, singled with one out in the fourth.
Then Cuddyer crushed a fastball for his 27th home run and a 2-0 lead. Delmon Young's RBI double two innings later gave the Twins a cushion.
The AL Central has been more of a crawl than a race, but the announced crowd of 32,693 wasn't worried about that. Duensing provided plenty to cheer for.
NOTES: Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp was "pleasantly surprised" with Nate Robertson's latest bullpen session, according to Leyland. Robertson hasn't pitched since last Friday because of a groin problem, but he will start tomorrow with Jarrod Washburn fighting a knee injury. The Tigers don't play Monday, so rookie Eddie Bonine will be skipped..44.97903 -93.26493