DETROIT (AP) — Torii Hunter put the Detroit Tigers ahead with his bat and scored two runs with his 38-year-old legs to help the Detroit Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins 7-1 on Wednesday night.
Minnesota let the AL Central-leading Tigers score four runs with two outs in the seventh, and three more with two outs in the eighth.
On a pivotal play in the seventh, right fielder Chris Hermann failed to get to Hunter’s drive between him and center fielder Clete Thomas, allowing Austin Jackson to score easily from first.
After Miguel Cabrera was walked intentionally, Prince Fielder struck out, but backup catcher Ryan Doumit let the ball get past him and relief pitcher Caleb Thielbar didn’t cover home plate. That mistake gave Hunter a clear path to score.
“I was always told by Kirby Puckett, ‘Be a hyena. Always take advantage of the weak link,’” Hunter said.
“I saw the pitcher sitting there, looking at the play and the plate was wide open. That play never develops if Prince doesn’t run. He did what he had to do, make them throw the ball and I was able to score.”
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire lamented the mental mistake by the 26-year-old Thielbar.
“The kid got caught watching the play and didn’t get to home plate,” Gardenhire said. “That’s automatic. You have to cover the plate. He knows that better than anyone right now.”
Victor Martinez followed with an RBI double to put Detroit up 4-1.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier bobbled a grounder in the eighth, the team’s first error in six games, and the miscue loaded the bases for Cabrera, who cleared them with his 25th double that gave him 123 RBIs.
The Tigers pinch-ran for Cabrera, who has been playing in pain, but felt better Wednesday than he did Tuesday when he aggravated a strain in his groin, abdominal and hip area.
“I was pleased with his health,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Drew Smyly (5-0) struck out two in a perfect inning in relief of Anibal Sanchez. Jose Veras entered with two outs in the eighth inning and closed the game for his first save with the Tigers.
Kevin Correia (8-10) allowed four runs — two earned — and nine hits over 6 2-3 innings.
“I got us right into the position we needed to be, and I blew it,” he said.
Sanchez gave up one run and six hits over 6 2-3 innings.
“Both starters were terrific,” Leyland said. “Then, we finally broke through.”
And, Hunter had a lot to do with that.
“He’s one of the toughest players I’ve ever managed,” Leyland said. “In big situations, he gets tougher.”
Gardenhire knows that perhaps as much as anyone because he was his manager for several years, and was among the least surprised at Comerica Park when he took advantage of the Twins’ poor play.
“We’ve seen him do things like that so many times,” he said. “That’s just the way he plays the game. He had a huge at-bat, flipped the ball the other way for the double, and then he makes the hustle play when we fall asleep.”
After six scoreless innings, Dozier hit a two-out single in the seventh to give Minnesota the lead — briefly.
Pedro Florimon drew a walk on a full-count pitch in the seventh. He stole second, the 15th straight stolen base against the Tigers, who were relegated to using their third-best catcher, Bryan Holaday, who was filling in for injured backup Brayan Pena and starter Alex Avila who is on the concussion disabled list.
The Tigers gave up a 16th straight stolen base later in the inning, extending the longest active streak in the major leagues, according to STATS LLC.
Minnesota was without All-Star catcher Joe Mauer for the second straight day because he is on the seven-day concussion DL.
Both teams had five hits through four innings and combined to leave 10 runners on base.
Minnesota’s Justin Morneau had two of his team’s first four hits, including a double in the third, a day after having a season-high four hits.
NOTES: Avila was cleared for a rehab assignment, and is scheduled to play for Triple-A Toledo on Thursday at Louisville. ... The Twins recalled Chris Colabello from Triple-A Rochester to take Joe Mauer’s spot on the roster, and put the rookie at 1B on Wednesday. ... Pena missed the game with a bruised big right toe. ... The Twins expect RHP Samuel Deduno (biceps tendinitis) to make his scheduled start Friday at Cleveland.