Minneapolis — It was supposed to be a duel between two of the best young arms in the Central Division, and it very quickly devolved into a home run hitting contest.
When the smoke cleared from all the burnt wood Thursday night, the Twins-Tigers had combined for seven home runs and 14 balls hit with exit velocities of 103 mph or harder — and Tigers came out on top.
They avoided a sweep at Target Field scoring four runs in the final two innings to beat the Twins, 10-7.
“The wins have been hard to come by this week,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And I don’t care if you are in (the playoff race) or not, the losses take a toll on you after a few in a row.
“This is another example of us hanging in there.”
Down 7-6 in the eighth, Harold Castro ripped his second double of the game, scoring Jonathan Schoop and tying the game. Dustin Garneau followed with a sacrifice fly and Willi Castro a two-out RBI single to give the Tigers a 9-7 lead.
Schoop, playing in his 1,000th game, had already extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a double and single, blasted his 22nd home run in the ninth for an extra layer of cushion.
“It’s just competing,” said Niko Goodrum who hit two long home runs and continues to torment his former team. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to compete no matter who is on the other side of the field. Compete every pitch, every inning and never give in.
“That’s just being a man about this game. We’re not going to back down from anyone. We just want to finish strong.”
Did we mention the ball was flying?
The Twins hit three home runs off Tigers rookie lefty Tarik Skubal, who made his final start of the season. Byron Buxton got it started with a 426-foot laser to left field, his first of two, to lead off the game. Josh Donaldson launched a three-run home run (422 feet) in the third inning and Brent Rooker hit one onto the berm in center field (414 feet) in the fourth.
All three were hit off his fastball.
Not the last taste Skubal wanted to take into the offseason after an encouraging rookie season.
Asked when he’d be able to put this last start behind him and focus on the season as a whole, he said, “About five months from now when I get an outing in spring training.”
“Obviously not the way I wanted my last outing of the season to go, just from a progression standpoint,” Skubal said. “I felt the way I was executing pitches for the last three months didn’t show tonight, for whatever reason.
“Pitch execution wasn’t there. Everything was middle and I wasn’t landing off-speed pitches for strikes. This is what happens.”
Still, like fellow rookie Casey Mize, he went wire-to-wire, pitching 149.1 innings over 31 games and 29 starts. He set a club rookie strikeout record (164) and finished with a 4.34 ERA.
“It sucks for him that his season ended that way, because he’s pitched a lot better in the September than this last one is going to feel,” Hinch said. “This one is going to sting a little while.”
The only lingering concern has been the home run ball. He gave up 35 of them, second most in the American League. Twenty-two of them came on his best weapon — a mid-to-upper 90s four-seam fastball.
“I had one goal coming into the season and that was to be healthy,” Skubal said. “I said it from the beginning and I’ve been healthy all year. I didn’t miss a start and that’s something I take pride in going into the offseason.”
The Tigers similarly beat up on Twins prized rookie right-hander Joe Ryan. Specifically, Goodrum beat up on him.
Ryan, whom the Twins got from the Rays in the Nelson Cruz trade, struck out four of the first six hitters, getting three of them on called third strikes with his fastball. Goodrum didn’t look at his fastball, he swung at it.
He hit a 411-foot solo home run to right-center on an 0-2 fastball in the third inning. Then in the fourth he poleaxed another 91-mph heater and sent it 432 feet into the second deck in right-center – a three-run home run.
“Just from our hitters meetings, we knew he had great carry on his fastball,” Goodrum said. “When they say that, you have to be ready to catch the ball out front. Just be ready for the fastball. I was just trying to be aggressive on the heater and I put a couple of good swings on it.”
Goodrum, the former Twin, has nine homers this season. He’s hit more homers against the Twins in his career than against any other team (eight).
This was the third get-away game for the Tigers at Target Field. The first two were four-hour barnburners — a 12-9 Tigers loss and a 17-14 Tigers win.
This one went down that same path. Especially after Buxton hit his second home run, a 427-footer in the seventh off Kyle Funkhouser to put the Twins up 7-6.
“He’s a star,” Hinch said of Buxton. “But we fell behind a couple of times. Donaldson hits the homer and we come back. Buxton hits the homer and we come back. I don’t know how to characterize these wins, but I know I like it when they happen.”
Rookie right-hander Alex Lange got four impressive outs, striking out Miguel Sano with three straight change-ups to strand two runners in the seventh and then pitching a clean eighth.
Michael Fulmer put two runners on in the bottom of the ninth but closed it out for his 13th save.