DETROIT – Kenta Maeda's damage control, sure. Andelton Simmons' throwing ability, absolutely. And Nelson Cruz's … speed?
"I had to show off all my tools today," Cruz said with a grin.
There are all kinds of ways to win a ballgame, and take a series, but the credit for the Twins' 3-2 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday goes to the most — let's say unlikely — skill that they've utilized in awhile.
However it happened, though, the Twins come home to play before an energized Target Field crowd for the first time in 18 months with a 4-2 record, the most wins in the American League Central, and a new appreciation for just how spry their 40-year-old senior citizen still is.
He even danced. Sort of.
"I told [Byron Buxton] the other day that I look faster than him," Cruz joked. "I was safe. That's all that matters."
With the Twins trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning and Kyle Garlick on first base, Cruz hit a sharp line drive just to the left of second base, a ball that landed just in front of Tigers shortstop Willi Castro and glanced off his glove. No problem with Cruz running, though; second baseman Jonathan Schoop quickly scooped up the ricochet and fired it to first base in time, umpire Chad Fairchild signaled, to retire the lumbering DH and end the inning.
But Cruz singled "safe" as he crossed the bag, and Rocco Baldelli appealed the play as the Tigers jogged off the Comerica Park field. Replays discovered that Cruz had used every bit of his 25.1-foot-per-second "speed" to beat Schoop's throw by a millisecond, and overturned the call as Cruz did a foot-shuffling jig on the base in celebration.
"When you get certain guys, Nelson being one of them, really moving on the base paths, giving it everything they have to try to win a ballgame, it's awesome," Baldelli said. "It's fun to watch him go."
He wasn't done. With the inning extended, Jorge Polanco drove a double to the warning track in left-center. Garlick jogged home with the tying run and Cruz roared around the bases to beat the relay to the plate and give the Twins a lead.
That play became exponentially more important the bottom of the inning, when the Tigers amassed two singles, a double and a walk against Maeda, yet never scored because the Twins twice threw out the potential tying run at the plate.
Castro led off with a single, and Miguel Cabrera lofted a deep line drive to left that Jake Cave dove for but missed. He recovered quickly, threw the ball to Simmons, and the shortstop displayed his cannon arm by making a perfect throw to beat Castro home.
Two batters later, the bases were loaded when Schoop hit a medium-depth fly ball to Garlick in right. Cabrera — measured by Statcast last year at 23.1 feet per second, the third-slowest player in baseball behind Albert Pujols and Justin Smoak — tagged up and overaggressively decided to try to score. Garlick's throw was as perfect as Simmons', and Cabrera didn't even slide before being tagged out.
"Those are the kind of plays that win games for you," Baldelli said, citing Cave's quick recovery, Simmons' take-charge instincts, Mitch Garver's catch-and-tags, and Garlick's running start before throwing. "Game-winning plays, and we had to make a few."
"I was safe. [Cabrera] was out," Cruz gloated. "That tells you everything."
The rest of the game was less dramatic, but just as encouraging for the Twins. Maeda earned his first win with six solid innings, his only mistakes being a curveball that Akil Baddoo slapped into right-center for the first triple of his career, scoring Schoop, and a fifth-inning changeup that Wilson Ramos lined inside the left-field foul pole for a solo homer.
Maeda walked only one and struck out six. Alexander Colome pitched the final two innings to record his second save, just the second time in his nine-year career he's done that.