Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke (40) and catcher Alex Avila leave the field as Minnesota Twins race out to congratulate Eduardo Escobar after his two-run, walk-off double off Coke in a baseball game Wednesday, April 3, 2013, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Wednesday, April 03, 2013 9:28 pm
Coke coughs up lead as Tigers fall 3-2 to Twins
By DAVE CAMPBELLAP Sports Writer
If there's a concern about this team's ability to reach the World Series again, and win it this time, that rests on the relievers.
Eduardo Escobar's two-run double off Phil Coke with one out in the ninth inning lifted the Minnesota Twins to a 3-2 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday.
With Jose Valverde unsigned, Coke has been the head of the closer committee. After a two-up, two-down save on Monday, Coke stumbled this time.
"He just made a couple bad pitches at the end," manager Jim Leyland said. "He got them up, out over the plate, which is the strength of those guys. That's where he got them, and they hit them."
After Joaquin Benoit issued a leadoff walk to Trevor Plouffe, Coke (0-1) took over in the ninth. He recorded the first out, but Brian Dozier's single advanced pinch-runner Jamey Carroll to third. Then Escobar hit a first-pitch fastball to the warning track in front of the bullpens in left-center field.
The ball landed between Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson, and both runners scored easily. The rebuilding Twins enjoyed their first on-field celebration of the season and spoiled another strong Tigers pitching performance, this one by Anibal Sanchez after Justin Verlander threw five shutout innings on Monday.
Jackson said he thought "for a split-second" he could catch Escobar's drive.
"You're both going after it hard, and then when you start to get closer you see each other out the corner of your eye," Jackson said. "Lots of people yelling, so it's hard for me to hear him or him to hear me. Tough play right there."
Coke lamented his location on both of Minnesota's hits off him, particularly with Dozier.
"Dozier's a good first ball, fastball hitter. Instead of getting it in on the plate, I left it outside, elevated and gave him a chance to whack it in the outfield," Coke said.
Darin Downs also allowed a run in the sixth on pinch-hitter Wilkin Ramirez's double, after Tigers relievers gave up runs in shaky sixth and seventh innings in the opener.
Valverde, a three-time All-Star who struggled in the playoffs, became a free agent and wasn't brought back. Hard-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon was sent to Triple-A. So the bullpen is the biggest issue for this experienced, hungry team.
The gametime temperature was 46 degrees, up 11 from the opener, but the afternoon winds were still whipping across the diamond. The announced attendance was 22,963, the smallest crowd in terms of tickets sold since Target Field opened in 2010.
Sanchez surrendered two hits and three walks while striking out five, a line almost identical to Verlander's on opening day.
"We stuck to the game plan as far as trying to mix pitches and change speeds," catcher Alex Avila said. "I think as the game went on he got better."
Detroit star Miguel Cabrera, the reigning American League MVP and Triple Crown winner, has driven in three runs in two games. He hit a pair of two-out RBI singles, one in the third and one in the fifth. Torii Hunter, the former Twins star, has adjusted well to the No. 2 spot in the batting order with his new team. He hit opposite-field singles right before Cabrera's run-scoring hits.
But Twins starter Kevin Correia otherwise had a fine AL debut. The right-hander got the first two outs in each of those innings. Correia, signed as a free agent after spending the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, finished seven innings and was charged with seven hits and one walk.
Jared Burton pitched a perfect eighth and Glen Perkins (1-0) needed only 10 pitches in a perfect ninth inning for the victory.
The Twins had only three hits until the final inning. They scored in the seventh when Plouffe drew a leadoff walk against Downs, stole second and came home when Ramirez, a former Tigers prospect who played 15 games for Detroit in 2009, sent a ground ball down the first-base line that eluded Prince Fielder's reach for a double.
Escobar's was even bigger.
"It's tough to judge both teams," Leyland said. "Both of these teams are really good-hitting ballclubs, and I think they're going to hit more than they're hitting right now, us and them. The conditions are not conducive to swinging the bats real well right now."
NOTES: Cabrera has 29 RBIs in 29 career games at Target Field. ... Ramirez's RBI was his first in the majors since July 24, 2011, with Atlanta. He's 5 for 12 in his career as a pinch hitter. ... The Tigers lost for only the fifth time in their last 21 games at Minnesota.
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