Minneapolis — Tarik Skubal served notice Saturday night.
In his first three starts, he was like a colt taking his first steps — a little wobbly at times, a little unsure. But against the Twins at Target Field, facing this potent lineup for the second time in seven days, he was in full gallop right out of the gate.
If there was ever any doubt about the legitimacy of his lofty prospect status, this should dispel it. In a critical game, Skubal locked up the Twins offense for six innings.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, his effort did not result in victory.
The Twins rallied for two runs against Jose Cisnero in the ninth and stole a 4-3 win. It was the fourth straight loss for the Tigers, and this one stung.
BOX SCORE: Twins 4, Tigers 3
Cisnero walked Josh Donaldson to start the ninth. Nelson Cruz hit a hard ground ball up the middle that caromed off Cisnero’s backside for an infield hit.
After Jake Cave struck out, Miguel Sano slapped a single to left to tie the game. Then with two outs, speedy Byron Buxton hit a ground ball to short. Willi Castro charged and made a strong throw, but Buxton beat it out.
Manager Ron Gardenhire was not in the dugout to see the ending. He left the game with a stomach virus, watching the finish from his office while Lloyd McClendon brought it home.
This, though, was Skubal’s pronouncement of arrival.
His delivery looked smooth. His fastball rang 97 mph on the radar gun in the first inning. He mixed in, no, he commanded his three other pitches — the slider, curve ball and, especially, his change-up, which he was pairing expertly with the slider.
In Comerica Park seven days ago, Skubal got six swings and misses in five innings. He had seven after three innings Saturday and 14 in six innings.
He dispatched 10 straight hitters, before walking Donaldson in the fourth. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth.
He struck out Sano in the third inning, using a fastball-slider-change-up sequence. Sano was late on the first two, way early on the change-up. He dotted the inside corner with a 97-mph fastball to get Ryan Jeffers looking.
He got Nelson Cruz to ground into a double-play, again sequencing his pitches to get to the change-up. He threw four straight fastballs to Cruz, the last three at 95 mph, and then pulled the string and had Cruz way out front of the change-up.
After giving up back-to-back singles to Brent Rooker and Sano in the fifth — both right-handed hitters who took him to right field — Skubal threw back-to-back sliders to left-handed hitting Eddie Rosario. Rosario bounced it right back to Skubal, who started a 1-6-3 double-play.
Jake Cave, who ran for Rooker and went to third on Sano’s hit, scored on the double-play, which seemed to anger Skubal. He punched out Buxton on three pitches to end the fifth.
After pitching around a lead-off walk in the sixth, Skubal was greeted in the dugout by pitching coach Rick Anderson — congratulations on a job well done.
Six innings, two hits, one run, six strikeouts, 14 swings and misses, the average exit velocity on the 12 balls the Twins, the playoff-bound Twins, put in play was a meek-ish 88 mph.
Given all the elements — the Tigers having lost three straight and trying to hang in the wild card race, facing the thumping Twins in back-to-back starts — Skubal’s performance was masterful.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were having their own issues with Twins starter Kenta Maeda. Victor Reyes started the game by ambushing a hanging slider, knocking it over the wall in right field. It was the only slider Maeda hung on this night.
He retired 18 straight Tigers hitters until Jonathan Schoop worked a walk and aggressively went to third on a single to left, a hard-hit single, by Miguel Cabrera.
That ended Maeda’s day. Manager Rocco Baldelli brought in right-hander Tyler Clippard who had stranded all six runners he’d inherited this season. That streak came to an end in one pitch.
Jeimer Candelario singled Schoop home to put the Tigers up 2-1. And after Willi Castro singled to load the bases, Jorge Bonifacio singled and brought in Cabrera.
The Tigers, though, got nothing else out of the bases-loaded, no-out situation. Christin Stewart forced a runner at the plate, Austin Romine struck out and Isaac Paredes flew out to center.
Joe Jimenez took over for Skubal and struck out Cruz and Cave to start the seventh. But he hung a slider to Sano and it ended up in the second deck in left. Sano stood at home plate and admired the shot for a good while, long enough to draw words from Jimenez.
The two continued to jaw at each other, even as Jimenez was removed from the game.
The Tigers still needed seven outs to secure the win. Gregory Soto struck out Eddie Rosario to end the seventh. Buck Farmer pitched a scoreless eighth.
Again, the last three outs were elusive for the Tigers.