Tigers 2, Twins 1
MINNEAPOLIS -- All the spirit and fight the Minnesota Twins showed in the final month of the season wasn't enough to hide the truth for manager Ron Gardenhire.
Of all the disappointing numbers in another last-place season for the Twins, none stung more than a 31-50 record at home, the worst mark in the majors.
"We haven't won enough games for our fans," Gardenhire said. "They deserve wins. All's I can say is these guys put it out there. They tried. They were getting after it today and they put it on the line. Unfortunately it was a tough season for our fans at home. We didn't see enough wins here. We'll finish off this season and try to make it better."
Joe Mauer went 3 for 4 to raise his average to .323, putting him right on the heels of Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera for the AL batting crown. Cabrera went 0 for 3 to fall to .325 as he tries to become the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown.
Liam Hendriks allowed five hits and struck out three in seven shutout innings and the Twins took a 1-0 lead on Pedro Florimon's single in the seventh inning. But rock-steady setup man Jared Burton (3-2) gave up an opposite field homer to Fielder to let the lead slip away and Jose Valverde picked up his 34th save to help the Tigers take a season-high three-game lead on the White Sox in the division with three games to go.
"We're not all the way happy yet," Fielder said. "We have what, three games left? Try to win those and after that, we'll see what happens."
Cabrera entered the day leading the AL in batting average and RBIs -- both by comfortable margins -- and tied with Texas star Josh Hamilton for the lead in home runs.
But the batting race suddenly is up in the air.
Mauer hit three singles off Anibal Sanchez, while Cabrera had some hard luck with a ball hit squarely that Florimon was able to snatch out of the air at shortstop.
"He's a great hitter and Joe's a great hitter," Gardenhire said. "We've got three left and they've got three left. We'll see what it comes down to."
It's been quite a bounce-back season for Mauer, who struggled so badly with injuries last season that he was booed by the once-adoring home crowd. But he's remained healthy this season and, if he plays in all three remaining games in Toronto, will set a career high for games played in a season. The Twins have moved him around between catcher, first base and designated hitter to superb results.
"If I'm on the field I think I can do things like that," Mauer said. "That was the biggest thing for me. I put a lot of work in at the beginning of this year to stay on the field and it's kind of nice to see what I've done just as far as getting out there every single day."
Hendriks also helped his buddy Mauer close the gap in the batting title race by getting Cabrera to ground out twice. Cabrera also lined out against Burton in the eighth.
"I was glad that I could keep Miguel (under wraps)," Hendriks said. "He put some balls in play but they were outs. Hats off to Joe. He went 3 for 4 today and that's impressive no matter what, even with the pressure that's going on with him right now and the hunt for that title.
"It definitely felt good to be able to help my catcher out."
NOTES: Gardenhire said he hopes to retain his entire coaching staff going into next season but knows that the front office could try to shake things up after back-to-back 90-loss seasons. "I have all the faith that they can do the job, but some of these things aren't going to be left up to me," he said. ... Twins RHP Scott Baker said he is pleased with his recovery from Tommy John surgery and hopes to be ready to go by March next season. Baker will likely become a free agent in November. ... The Twins finish with three in Toronto. RHP Esmerling Vasquez (0-2, 5.88 ERA) will start the opener against Toronto LHP Aaron Laffey (4-6, 4.52).
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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