That's because the team was left to deal with the aftereffects of left-hander Jose Mijares throwing behind Tigers shortstop Adam Everett in the eighth inning, a move he did all on his own and for reasons that the Twins weren't clear on themselves.
It led to warnings for both benches. Jeremy Bonderman to then hit Delmon Young in the back of his right knee with a pitch to start the ninth, resulting in ejections for multiple Tigers. Both benches cleared as Young began yelling at Mijares, his own teammate, for causing it all to happen.
"We weren't as jubilant or excited as maybe we could have been or should have been," Michael Cuddyer said after the victory. "I think looking back, we won. It's a big win, kept us in the race. But it definitely put a sour note in it."
The Twins should have been celebrating that the final regular-season series at the Metrodome will open this weekend with a meaningful game against the Royals, thanks to their ability to pull off a must-win on Thursday.
Detroit came in with the opportunity to clinch its first division title since 1987, as its magic number sat at two. But, thanks to the Twins completing a 2-2 series split, the tightest race in baseball now won't be decided until this weekend -- or perhaps even early next week if a tiebreaker is necessary.
"Anytime you lose, it's frustrating," said Bonderman. "But we played a tough team that gave us a good run for our money every game. Kind of figured it was going to be a dogfight. They came in the first two games and could've won both. We'll be happy to take the split and try to move on and find a way to win."
The Twins were able to keep the division race going by getting enough of a solid start from Baker to combine with plenty of run support.
Baker allowed just one unearned run over his five innings, despite having a runner on base in each frame. And the offense backed him, tallying four runs (three earned) off Tigers starter Nate Robertson before putting the game out of reach with a four-run eighth inning against Detroit's bullpen.
Orlando Cabrera extended his hitting streak to 12 games with two hits, including a bases-clearing double in the eighth, and American League batting leader Joe Mauer went 2-for-4 with two RBI doubles to bring his season average to .367.
The runs helped the Twins to overcome a rough day in the field, as they tallied four errors to tie their season high. Three of those errors came at third base, with starter Brendan Harris tallying two and late-inning defensive replacement Matt Tolbert recording one in the eighth that allowed a run to score.
Thanks to the errors, all three runs allowed by Twins pitchers were unearned. But the pitchers had miscues of their own, with each starter exchanging hit-by-pitches early in the contest (Robertson hit Span in the third, and Baker plunked Marcus Thames in the fourth) before the drama late.
"That was ugly," Gardenhire said. "The bottom line was we won the baseball game, we're two back and we've got to go home and sweep and see what happens with the Tigers"
For all of the sloppy play and the late-inning mess leading to frustrations within their clubhouse, The Twins were clear on that one thing. Their postseason aspirations are still alive -- if not complicated and with the need of a lot of help from the White Sox.
To earn the division outright, the Twins would have to sweep the Royals this weekend and need the White Sox to sweep the Tigers at Comerica Park. To force a one-game tiebreaker for the division title, the Twins would have to sweep Kansas City and Detroit would have to lose two of three against the White Sox, or Minnesota would need to win two of three and have the White Sox sweep the Tigers.
"Obviously we don't control our destiny anymore," Michael Cuddyer said. "Anything can happen, but first and foremost if we don't win, we know what will happen. So we have to go out and win."