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Twins complete two-game sweep of Tigers

By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

DETROIT — Nothing has come easily for the Minnesota Twins this year, so everyone in their clubhouse could only chuckle over how difficult they made it look Thursday, beating Detroit, 4-3, to secure their first two-game win streak since April 11-12.

After stretching their lead to 4-0 in the fifth inning, when they capitalized on Detroit’s sixth error in two games, the Twins held their breath as the Tigers hit three bases-empty homers against rookie starter P.J. Walters.

The Twins needed a pair of Houdini acts from relievers Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins to complete a two-game sweep at Comerica Park that dropped the Tigers to 18-20.

“This is the team everybody’s picking to win the division, and we come in here and go toe-to-toe with them,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s something we can build off.”

Gardenhire hopes so, at least. With interleague play starting Friday in Milwaukee, his team is still 12-26 and trying desperately to build confidence. The two-game Detroit trip offered some good signs:

— Justin Morneau returned from the disabled list and went 3-for-9. He had three RBI Thursday, including a two-run, opposite-field homer off Doug Fister.

“I’ve been feeling strong,” said Morneau, who’d been out because of a sore left wrist. “I’ve been feeling like I’ve been able to use my top hand more. Positive reinforcement’s always nice.”

— Trevor Plouffe homered in both games, hitting a two-run, ninth-inning shot in Wednesday’s 11-7 victory — after his batting average dipped to .125 — and following Morneau’s drive with a blast to left field off Fister. Those were the Twins’ first back-to-back homers this season.

— Brian Dozier, who hit a three-run homer Wednesday, had two more hits Thursday, giving him five multihit games since being promoted from Class AAA Rochester on May 7.

— Walters is 2-for-2 in quality starts since getting his promotion May 9. He gave up homers to Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks and Prince Fielder on Thursday, but as catcher Drew Butera said, “Solo home runs won’t beat you.”

— Then there’s the bullpen, which held Detroit to one run over seven innings Wednesday. Gardenhire had relievers he needed to rest Thursday, so when two Tigers reached with one out in the seventh, he turned to Liriano, despite the lefthander’s 8.59 ERA.

Liriano threw three sliders and got pinch hitter Ramon Santiago to ground into an inning-ending double play.

“If he has some success doing that in big situations, I think that’s going to boost his confidence,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

The Twins felt much more confident when Perkins took the mound for the eighth inning, but 10 of his first 11 pitches were balls. Dirks and Miguel Cabrera walked before Fielder got into the hitter’s count of 2-0.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried,” Perkins said. “I was lost out there for 2½ batters.”

But all of a sudden, Perkins flicked the nasty switch. His next five pitches were all strikes. After fanning Fielder with a fastball clocked at 96 miles per hour, he got former teammate Delmon Young to ground into a double play. Matt Capps retired the side in the ninth, preserving his eighth save in eight opportunities. Gardenhire had given Capps a two-day breather to rest his arm, and the righthander responded well.

“We were searching, and Frankie comes in and gets a huge double play,” Gardenhire said. “And Perk got through his inning after trying to make us lose more hair. A huge win. Cappy did his thing. … We had some good things happen. A good couple of wins here.”

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