DETROIT (AP) — Ron Gardenhire has never made a secret of his admiration for Prince Fielder.
The Minnesota Twins manager has often called the Detroit Tigers' slugger one of the best and smartest hitters and baseball, and openly talks about telling his pitchers not to let Fielder beat them.
That's why Thursday night was so tough.
With the game tied at six in the eighth inning, Detroit had a runner on second and one out. Gardenhire didn't want to face Fielder in that situation, but he realized he didn't have any choice. He decided to have Jared Burton intentionally walk hot-hitting Miguel Cabrera, bringing Fielder to the plate.
"You hate walking anyone to pitch to Prince Fielder, I can tell you that right now," Gardenhire said. "But you've got to take your choice, and the way Cabrera is swinging the bat, you've got to do it."
The choice was fairly obvious — Cabrera is hitting .387 this season and has six homers and 13 RBIs in the last four games — and it almost worked.
Fielder hit a hard grounder up the middle that looked like a tailor-made 4-6-3 double play until Burton (0-2) reached for it. The ball deflected off his glove, and past second baseman Brian Dozier. Infante scored easily from second and the Tigers went on to win 7-6.
"We got the groundball," Gardenhire said. "It just didn't work out."
The Twins led 6-3 after the top of the seventh, thanks to two homers from Josh Willingham, but the bullpen couldn't hold on.
Detroit started the rally by scoring three times off three Minnesota pitchers in the seventh. Infante singled and Casey Fien walked Cabrera with one out, bringing Brian Duensing into the game. He allowed RBI singles to Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez before giving way to Burton.
Jhonny Peralta greeted Burton with a game-tying double, and Matt Tuiasosopo was hit by a pitch to load the bases before Brayan Pena and Andy Dirks popped out to end the inning.
Before the intentional walk, Cabrera had driven in three runs, including his sixth homer in four games. He's matched a career high by homering in four straight games. He has also walked five times in the four games, and Fielder has followed all five with hits, driving in seven more runs.
"It's absolutely incredible what they are doing," Tigers starter Rick Porcello said. "If I were pitching against them, I'd just walk both of them every time they came up."
Joaquin Benoit (1-0) picked up the win with a perfect inning of relief, while Jose Valverde pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
The Tigers had taken a 2-0 lead in the first when Cabrera lifted a 2-2 pitch into the bullpens beyond the left-field fence. It was the first of his six homers in four games that he had pulled — the others had all been to center field or right-center.
Porcello almost got a second straight inning-ending double play in the second, but Jhonny Peralta juggled Dozier's grounder and Dozier beat the relay throw to allow Justin Morneau to score.
Minnesota started the third with three straight singles, tying the game, and Willingham made it 5-2 by pulling Porcello's pitch deep into the left-field stands.
Scott Diamond retired 10 straight batters after Tuiasosopo's second-inning single, but Detroit loaded the bases with two out in the fifth on two singles and a walk. Cabrera bounced an infield single up the middle, making it 5-3, but Diamond got Fielder to pop out and end the inning.
Detroit threatened again in the sixth, putting runners on second and third with two out, but Fien came on to strike out pinch-hitter Andy Dirks. Willingham then moved the lead to three runs with a solo homer off Darin Downs in the seventh.
"That's a tough loss," Willingham said. "I felt good at the plate, and I was able to get the pitchers to elevate the ball. That's the key to doing what I do."
NOTES: Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon left the game after the top of the third with an sprained right index finger. Florimon appeared to sustain the injury while sliding head-first into third base. Gardenhire said after the game that Florimon is day-to-day. ... The fans broke into a chant of "Let's Go Red Wings" in the top of the fifth inning as news spread that Detroit had taken a 1-0 lead over the Blackhawks in the second period of the playoff game. The hockey game was played at Joe Louis Arena, about five minutes from Comerica Park. ... Cabrera also homered in four straight games with the Marlins in April 2004.