Marwin Gonzalez came to the plate against the Detroit Tigers in the eighth inning, the first round of extra innings, with teammate Willians Astudillo on second base – a new rule for the shortened season.
Gonzalez poked a single off reliever Joe Jimenez into shallow center field, and Astudillo turned the corner for home plate. Center fielder Derek Hill, making his MLB debut as a defensive replacement, bobbled the baseball and had no throw.
That’s all the Minnesota Twins needed to produce a 3-2 victory against the Tigers (17-19) in the second matchup of Friday’s doubleheader at Target Field. The Tigers were the home team in Game 2 because of an originally scheduled game at Comerica Park that was postponed due to weather.
The Tigers are three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the eighth and final playoff spot in the AL.
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The Twins, now 24-16, took the first game, 2-0, thanks to back-to-back homers from Jorge Polanco and Josh Donaldson to start the first inning. Donaldson returned from a calf injury Wednesday, so Friday’s doubleheader was the first time the Tigers have faced him this season.
Donaldson entered the seventh inning of Game 2 as a pinch-hitter and worked a walk against left-hander Gregory Soto, who allowed the tying run on a single by Jorge Polanco, blowing the save. Soto was chased with no outs and runners on the corners, but Jose Cisnero produced three straight outs, including strikeouts of Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz, to escape further damage.
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In the bottom of the eighth, Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario and Willi Castro struck out to end the game, leaving the tying runner stranded at second. The five-game series continues with left-hander Tarik Skubal starting Saturday, followed by right-handers Casey Mize (Sunday) and Michael Fulmer (Monday).
With a speedy Byron Buxton on first base with one out in the top of the fourth, left-hander Tyler Alexander attacked Ehire Adrianza and Ryan Jeffers to end his outing with back-to-back strikeouts. His cutter, which he used for 21 of his 59 pitches, impressed. That pitch got three strikes swinging and five called strikes. Only his four-seam fastball got as many whiffs.
Alexander pitched four innings of one-run ball, giving up seven hits – all singles – in his spot-start. He struck out four and did not allow a walk.
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Hill entered in the fifth inning with the Tigers leading 2-1 for defensive purposes. Manager Ron Gardenhire slotted him in center, shifting Victor Reyes to left. The decision to play Hill benched left fielder Christin Stewart, who watched three pitches – all strikes – go by in the third inning to strikeout with the bases loaded and two outs.
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Hill got his first at-bat in the sixth inning and was called out on strikes. Right-hander Tyler Clippard threw him four pitches, but Hill didn’t swing never swung. He hit .243 with 23 homers and 169 RBIs in 477 games in his minor-league career, which dates to 2014. He was the No. 23 overall draft pick that year.
Through 10 games against the Tigers last season, Sano hit .154 with four homers and seven RBIs. A year later, he is still struggling. In five games against them, he is 1-for-16 with 10 strikeouts. He struck out five times in his six at-bats in the doubleheader.
Sano has 11 homers, 31 RBIs, 26 walks, 111 strikeouts in his career against the Tigers.
The Tigers made two changes to the nine-man lineup for Game 2, replacing catcher Austin Romine and right fielder Travis Demeritte with Grayson Greiner and Jorge Bonifacio.
Those moves, however, didn’t necessarily pay dividends.
With a runner on second base in the second inning, Bonifacio was called out on strikes. He watched an 82.3 mph slider go down the middle to end …