MINNEAPOLIS — Two days after celebrating their improbable place in the postseason, the Minnesota Twins came home to a ballpark full of fans eager to cheer.
Brian Dozier stepped up with another handful of highlights, and Eduardo Escobar again showed off his unexpected strength.
Escobar drove in three runs, helping the Twins bail Kyle Gibson out after an RBI triple by Alex Presley and a two-run home run by Nicholas Castellanos gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead just three batters into the game.
“Everybody knows the type of person Esco is and how hard he works,” Gibson said, “and to see him thrive playing third base, making great plays and then offensively being a big spark plug, is pretty cool.”
With video clips of champagne celebrations from seasons past concluding with the party in the clubhouse at Cleveland on Wednesday, when the Twins learned they became the first team to go from 100-plus losses to the playoffs in one year, the crowd of 34,580 had plenty to appreciate. They saved some of their loudest cheers for Miguel Sano, who pinch-hit in the seventh inning and grounded out in his first appearance since fouling a ball off his left shin bone on Aug. 19.
“They love me,” Sano said, smiling.
Gibson was removed after 4 2/3 innings, so Jose Berrios (14-8) was credited with the win after recording four outs in a tuneup with the potential for a relief reprise on Tuesday in the AL wild-card game against either New York or Boston. Matt Belisle notched his ninth save with a perfect ninth inning.
Dozier opened the Minnesota first with a double against Matt Boyd (6-11) that would have been a triple had Dozier not tripped after rounding second . He hustled to dive head first back into the base and avoid an out, climbing to his feet with a wide grin on his face as the rest of the team razzed him from the dugout.
He then scored on Escobar’s double, trimming the deficit to 3-1.
Not to be outdone in the field, Dozier made a diving stop of Presley’s sharp grounder to second base with two runners in scoring position to end the second inning for Gibson, likely saving two runs.
Dozier and Escobar went deep back to back in the second, right after Ehire Adrianza nearly hit one out but settled for a double. Dozier is 13 for 30 with three homers and five RBIs in his career against Boyd.
“Just want one pitch back,” Boyd said of the two-out, 2-2 fastball he left over the plate. “That one to Dozier.”
Manager Brad Ausmus was asked what the Tigers had to do to get Dozier out.
“Hope there’s no one on base when he comes up to hit,” Ausmus said.
Since signaling the end of their contention with the current group through summer trades that jettisoned J.D. Martinez, Alex Avila, Justin Upton and Justin Verlander, the Tigers have predictably fallen hard during the final month of the schedule. They’ve been outscored 190-103 in September for a 5-23 record.
Castellanos, who has a career-high 26 home runs, became the 10th player age 25 or younger in Tigers history to top 100 RBIs. Miguel Cabrera was the last one to do so, in 2008. In 28 games this September, Castellanos is batting .373 (41 for 110) with seven homers and 25 RBIs.
“We’ve always thought that Nick would be a run producer,” said Ausmus, who gave the 2010 first-round draft pick a hug in the dugout.
Escobar has quietly been one of the most valuable players for the Twins down the stretch, taking over as the everyday third baseman after Sano was hurt. Escobar has career highs with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs, remarkable totals for a 5-foot-10, 185-pound utility player. Even he said he’s surprised by his power numbers.
“It’s a testament to not only the work I’ve put in in the field, but also at the gym and being able to work every day hard,” said Escobar, a native of Venezuela who paid tribute with his homer on Friday to his late grandfather, who died this week.
Tigers: Ausmus said Cabrera’s chance of playing this weekend was “extremely doubtful.” He has been out for a week with tightness in his lower back.
Twins: Sano came off the DL before the game, putting him in position for postseason action. Molitor did not commit to including him on the wild-card roster.
Tigers: RHP Buck Farmer (4-5, 7.12 ERA) will pitch the middle game of the series. He is 1-4 with an 8.69 ERA in five starts this month.
Twins: RHP Aaron Slegers (0-0, 7.36 ERA) will make his third major league start on Saturday night, with RHP Bartolo Colon likely to take his turn on Sunday.
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