DETROIT -- Following their victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader with the Tigers on Tuesday, the Twins made clear how important that win was since they had to face Detroit's ace, Justin Verlander, in the nightcap. The Twins had already defeated the Tigers' rookie phenom, Rick Porcello, with a 3-2, 10-inning decision to pull within one game of first place in the American League Central race, and their hope was that they could use the momentum to pull even with Detroit by beating its best pitcher. Instead, Verlander showed the Twins why he's considered one of the most dominant right-handers in the league. The power-throwing righty managed to help stave off a late charge by Minnesota, pitching eight innings and throwing a season-high 129 pitches while handing the Twins a 6-5 loss and a split in the day-night doubleheader.
The split kept the Twins two games behind the Tigers in the AL Central with five games remaining in the season, including two more head-to-head matchups in Detroit. And right now, those games are the only ones that the Twins are focused on. "We've been fighting an uphill battle," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "[The loss] just makes tomorrow's game even more important. We wanted to get this one tonight and finish off a great day. Our guys gave it everything they had. We put it all out there on the line. Until the last out was made, we still had a chance. That's pretty fun to watch, and I'm proud of the guys." For the early part of the contest on Tuesday night, it looked like the Twins were just overmatched against Verlander. While the Twins had won all three contests that Verlander had pitched against them this season, he looked to be a pitcher on a mission this time around. He allowed just two hits over his first five innings while recording six strikeouts over that stretch. Not once in the first five frames did Minnesota advance a runner past first base. "He was nasty," Joe Mauer said. "He usually is whenever we face him. But he had his good stuff working tonight." As their ace cruised, the Tigers were building Verlander a 5-0 lead off rookie starter Brian Duensing. Minnesota's left-hander couldn't find the same success he had in his only other start vs. Detroit, which came on Sept. 18, when he pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings. This time, he gave up five runs on seven hits in just 4 2/3 innings to earn his first loss since joining the rotation in mid-August. Yet the Twins weren't about to give up just because they were in a hole. And much like they've done during their two-week hot streak, they found a way to slowly string runs together -- this time, the top of their batting order got to Verlander. In the sixth, the Twins Nos. 1-3 hitters strung together three consecutive hits with one out. Denard Span doubled and Orlando Cabrera added an RBI single before Mauer stunned the packed crowd at Comerica by turning on a 98-mph fastball that was high and inside for a double. "That was a joke," Verlander said. "That's the only thing I've got for that. I don't know. I came in the dugout and said, 'I've got no clue.' I will never know how he hit that pitch." A sac fly by Jason Kubel scored another run to make it a 5-2 contest. Two innings later, it was the same group that scored two more runs off Verlander in the eighth as his pitch count started to rise. Back-to-back singles by Span and Cabrera with one out started the rally. A wild pitch during Mauer's at-bat moved both runners up a base, and Span scored on Mauer's groundout. Kubel's double to the gap in left-center made it a one-run game, 5-4, with the tying run in scoring position and Tigers manager Jim Leyland headed to the mound. At the time, Verlander had 125 pitches. But after a very brief exchange, Verlander remained in the contest. He ended the threat and the inning by getting Michael Cuddyer to ground out, keeping his chance at win No. 18 intact. "You have to give him credit," Span said. "He pitched his tail off. He's a warrior in my book, [close to] 130 pitches again." After Matt Guerrier gave up a leadoff home run to Curtis Granderson in the eighth to extend Detroit's lead to two, things once again got interesting in the ninth due to a stunning play. With Delmon Young on first base, Nick Punto hit a fly ball to center field that Granderson misjudged, allowing it to sail over his head for an RBI double that pulled the Twins back within one, 6-5. Yet the Tigers have not lost a game when leading in the ninth this season, and they didn't on this night either. Closer Fernando Rodney got Span to fly out to left for the final out, leaving the Twins with both a win and a loss on the day. A split is not the way the Twins wanted to end the day. But while they were in the same position -- two games back -- that they were at the start of the day with two fewer games left in the season, the Twins didn't view it as a wasted day. "Both games were tough games, even the way we battled back the second game versus their best pitcher," Span said. "We've seen their best now." The Tigers have Eddie Bonine and Nate Robertson going in the next two games while the Twins have Carl Pavano and Scott Baker. So the matchups look, at least on paper, to favor Minnesota. And the Twins hope that, by the end of these next two games, they will leave Detroit sitting in a tie for first place in the division. "We still have two left with them," Mauer said. "They are probably hoping to get a couple of them and put this thing out of reach. But we're still alive."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.