J.A. Happ stars as Twins earn comeback win over Tigers

The fact that the Twins were so evenly matched with the the Detroit Tigers on Thursday night was a perfect encapsulation of a season gone completely off the rails.

With the All-Star Game coming up next week, the Twins likely expected to be in the driver’s seat for the division title at this point. Instead, they occupy the cellar of the American League Central and will likely be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline.

None of that mattered on this particular night. While hopes of World Series are long gone by now, for a few hours the Twins gave their fans something to feel good about with a 5-3 comeback victory over the Tigers at Target Field.

J.A. Happ battled tooth and nail across seven innings to earn the win. Honestly, the word “earn” might not even do his effort justice. Asked about the pitching performance, manager Rocco Baldelli lauded Happ’s effectiveness with his sinker in particular.

“The (pitches) that were labeled sinker looked like they had some good action on them,” Baldelli said. “There were some guys that he really attacked with that pitch. He was very sharp. He threw strikes. It was just a very, very good outing every way we dice it up. He looked very, very sharp.”

As did the rest of the Twins. It was an impressive team effort with a number of flashy plays in the field to go along with Ryan Jeffers and Miguel Sano solo home runs. Max Kepler scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.

“It was just a very, very nice ballgame,” Baldelli said. “When we stay at it like that, and we’re able to come back and get a nice win, it does feel good.”

The game almost got away from the Twins early. Happ surrendered a two-run homer to Eric Haase in the top of the fourth to make it 2-0 in favor of the Tigers, but Jeffers homered in the bottom of the fifth to help the Twins cut the deficit to 2-1.

That set the stage for the top of the sixth. Happ started the frame by loading the bases on three straight bloop singles. He retired the next batter via strikeout, then walked in a run as the Tigers stretched their lead to 3-1. Happ got out of the jam a few pitches later when second baseman Jorge Polanco made a diving stop and flipped to Andrelton Simmons, who promptly fired to Sano for a double play to end the threat.

“That was huge,” Happ said. “That’s a huge momentum change and it obviously could have been the difference in the game if that ball gets through. Who knows what happens? That was huge for us.”

Though rookie Trevor Larnach added an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, the turning point came in the bottom of the seventh thanks to some timely hitting from the Twins coupled with some putrid play from the Tigers.

With the Twins trailing 3-2, Sano launched a moon shot into the outfield seats to tie the game 3-3. A couple of batters later, Kepler was called safe at second base after Tigers infielder Willi Castro stepped off the bag while trying to turn a double play. That proved to be the difference as Kepler scored on a wild pitch to put the Twins in front 4-3.

Polanco added a sacrifice fly to stretch the lead to 5-3.

Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers each tossed a scoreless inning in relief to preserve the win.

“It was a lot of fun,” Duffey said. “We were in it from the start. I thought Happ did a great job to keep us in there. He kept us in there long enough to give us a chance to win, and then we kind of slammed the door on them. It’s a good feeling to wire-to-wire have a pretty good ballgame and get a win like that.”

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