The division leaders were ready for the challenge, in front of a playoff-like crowd.
Craig Monroe's sharp single down the third-base line in the 10th inning lifted the Tigers to a 3-2 victory on Friday night that increased their lead over the Twins in the AL Central to 9½ games.
"They're a complete team," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who gushed repeatedly about Minnesota and its 34-9 record since June 8. "That's one of the reasons why they've had such a great run."
The Tigers (69-33) have been playing well all season, not just for the past two months. Zach Miner stayed even with fellow rookie Francisco Liriano, but was stuck with a no-decision. Liriano tied his career best with 12 strikeouts and allowed only three hits and two runs in eight innings.
"When you've got that guy pitching, they're as good as anybody. I believe that," Leyland said. "But you know? We've got a good team, too. We hung in there and got the win."
Monroe capped the rally and Todd Jones finished up for his 28th save, preserving a victory for Fernando Rodney (5-3) and pushing the Twins 1½ games behind the Yankees and one game behind the White Sox in the wild-card race.
"Nothing we can do about that," Liriano said. "Somebody had to win the game."
Chris Shelton singled off Juan Rincon (3-1) and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Vance Wilson. After Curtis Granderson struck out, Placido Polanco reached on a high-bouncing single to shortstop. Then came the hit by Monroe, who endured cramping in his left quadriceps while running to first and was pulled for pinch-runner Marcus Thames.
The Tigers won seven of nine against the Twins earlier this year, including a three-game sweep in April at home by a combined score of 33-1. Boasting baseball's best record, they've proved they're not a fluke.
Minnesota's surge came well after those previous meetings with Detroit. After catching Chicago with a three-game sweep this week, the Twins came home to a packed house.
Liriano's introduction prompted a boisterous ovation from the 45,478 fans who bought tickets for the first game in this important series.
A leadoff single by Granderson and a four-pitch walk to Polanco put two runners on for Ordonez, who hit a letter-high changeup to the wall in left-center field for a 2-0 lead that quickly calmed the crowd -- just the second sellout of the season and the first since the home opener.
"I was trying to keep it down," Liriano said, "but it stayed up and he hit it hard."
Liriano didn't flinch, though, and he went to work on quieting the Tigers' lineup -- pumping fastballs and 90-plus sliders into catcher Joe Mauer's glove. He gave up only one hit after Ordonez's drive and walked three in all.
"He's filthy," Miner said. "He throws fastballs that look like breaking balls."
The Twins were given a brief scare in the fourth, when Liriano's right foot rolled slightly on the dirt during his delivery to Dmitri Young, who struck out three times. He hopped gingerly off the mound, assured his team he was fine and fanned Young with his next pitch.
Liriano was just as dominant in July as he was in June, finishing this month 4-1 in six starts with a 1.51 ERA and three of his four double-digit strikeout performances.
Miner turned in a solid start, too, allowing four hits, two runs and one walk in six innings while striking out four.
Luis Castillo scratched out the first run by walking, stealing second and advancing the last two bases on groundouts. Mauer's bouncer to second drove him in.
In the third, Jason Bartlett walked, stole second and scored to tie it at 2-2 on a slapped single to left by Castillo, who was thrown out by Monroe trying to grab a double.
Miner, who made his major league debut in June and won six straight starts up to the All-Star break, gave up 15 hits and 10 runs over his first two second-half outings -- lasting a total of 6 2/3 innings and striking out only one.
"Huge. Huge. I pretty much stunk my last two games," Miner said. "A division rival. Liriano on the mound. I think both of us had something to prove out there."
|Pinch-runner Omar Infante gets some love in the dugout after scoring the go-ahead run in the 10th. (AP)|
|Players of the Game|
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|Curtis Granderson, CF||4||1||1||0||1||3||1||.283|
|Placido Polanco, 2B||4||1||2||0||1||0||1||.292|
|Craig Monroe, LF||5||0||1||1||0||3||3||.259|
|Marcus Thames, PR-LF||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.275|
|Magglio Ordonez, RF||4||0||1||2||1||1||2||.299|
|Carlos Guillen, SS-1B||3||0||0||0||1||0||1||.301|
|Dmitri Young, DH||3||0||0||0||1||3||2||.222|
|Brandon Inge, 3B||4||0||0||0||0||1||3||.243|
|Chris Shelton, 1B||4||0||1||0||0||2||0||.274|
|Omar Infante, PR-SS||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||.263|
|Vance Wilson, C||3||0||0||0||0||1||0||.291|
|2B - Magglio Ordonez (19, Liriano)|
|SH - Vance Wilson (7)|
|RBI - Craig Monroe (52), Magglio Ordonez 2 (72)|
|2-OUT RBI - Craig Monroe (19)|
|SB - Carlos Guillen (13, 2nd base off Nathan/Mauer)|
|Team LOB - 7|
|Outfield Assists - Craig Monroe 1|
|DP - Polanco-Guillen-Shelton|
|Fernando Rodney (W,5-3)||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||3.77|
|Todd Jones (S,28)||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||4.87|
|Pitches-Strikes - Zach Miner 101-62, Jamie Walker 24-16, Fernando Rodney 7-4, Todd Jones 15-12|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Zach Miner 9-2, Jamie Walker 3-2, Fernando Rodney 3-0, Todd Jones 1-1|
|Batters Faced - Zach Miner 22, Jamie Walker 7, Fernando Rodney 3, Todd Jones 3|
|Luis Castillo, 2B||3||1||1||1||1||1||0||.279|
|Nick Punto, 3B||4||0||1||0||0||0||1||.320|
|Joe Mauer, C||4||0||1||1||0||0||1||.373|
|Michael Cuddyer, RF||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||.266|
|Justin Morneau, 1B||4||0||2||0||0||1||1||.315|
|Jason Kubel, DH||3||0||0||0||0||0||3||.276|
|Josh Rabe, PR-DH||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.429|
|a- Luis Rodriguez, PH-DH||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.197|
|Rondell White, LF||4||0||1||0||0||1||0||.216|
|Jason Tyner, CF||4||0||0||0||0||2||1||.327|
|Jason Bartlett, SS||2||1||0||0||1||0||0||.331|
|a-grounded out for Rabe in the 10th|
|2B - Nick Punto (15, Miner)|
|RBI - Luis Castillo (35), Joe Mauer (55)|
|SB - Luis Castillo (13, 2nd base off Miner/V. Wilson), Jason Bartlett (2, 2nd base off Miner/V. Wilson)|
|CS - Josh Rabe (1, 2nd base by Walker/V. Wilson)|
|Team LOB - 3|
|DP - Punto-Castillo-Morneau|
|Juan Rincon (L,3-1)||1||3||1||1||0||1||0||2.09|
|WP - Francisco Liriano (8)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Francisco Liriano 104-72, Joe Nathan 25-12, Juan Rincon 12-8|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Francisco Liriano 7-4, Joe Nathan 1-1, Juan Rincon 2-0|
|Batters Faced - Francisco Liriano 29, Joe Nathan 5, Juan Rincon 6|
|Attendance - 45478|
|Game Time - 2:42|
|Temperature - 74|
|Umpires - Home - Bill Welke, First Base - Marty Foster, Second Base - Tim McClelland, Third Base - Field Culbreth|