DETROIT -- Jim Thome slugged his way into history Monday night against the club he has beaten more than any other. In the process of reaching 600 homers, he slugged the Tigers back a little closer to the pack in the AL Central.
Hours after the Tigers traded for Delmon Young, they got the offensive jolt they wanted, tying their highest run output in 17 days. Yet once the Twins pulled ahead, they left the Tigers playing catch-up the rest of the night. In the end, the 9-6 final cut a half-game off the Tigers' division lead on a night when the second-place Indians and third-place White Sox were off.
The Indians haven't played in two days thanks to Sunday's rainout, yet they've knocked a game off the Tigers' lead in that time, now down to two games atop the division. Chicago, meanwhile, sits 3 1/2 games back.
Yet as manager Jim Leyland was sitting in his office after the game, it wasn't Cleveland or Chicago on his mind, but the issues his own club has to face.
"We swung the bats pretty good," Leyland said. "We just didn't pitch good. And this is all said and done, that's what it's going to boil down to. Tonight, we just didn't do it."
Or as he later pointed out, "We scored six runs tonight. You're supposed to win when you score six runs."
The way the Twins capitalized on Rick Porcello's second consecutive rough start, it wasn't going to happen.
The Tigers traded for Young thinking he was getting close to the 2010 form that helped push Minnesota to the division title, and believing he could help them do the same. Once he stepped to the plate for the first time in a Detroit uniform, his first-inning solo homer pulled them ahead. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first Major League player to homer in his first at-bat for his new team, facing his old team, since Dave Martinez in one of his four stops in 2000.
Few likely received the ovation Young received before his first pitch. He was loudly welcomed during pregame introductions, and again when he stepped to the plate. His homer didn't hurt.
"You can't ask for anything more," Young said. "You're in a pennant race, and the fans want you to play well because they obviously want to win, and they'd like to get the playoffs again. So it's good to have the fans behind you."
It was good until the third inning, when two errors in the Tigers' infield and RBI doubles from Trevor Plouffe and Justin Morneau put Detroit behind. Victor Martinez's two-run homer, his first since June 10, drew the Tigers back even, but Porcello never found the groove to keep them there.
Porcello had a six-game unbeaten streak going before Cleveland roughed him up for eight runs, tying a career high, and 11 hits over just 3 2/3 innings last week. He said after that one that a mechanical issue flattened out his sinker and cost him command of his offspeed pitches, and he couldn't correct it during the game. He felt he had it fixed going into Monday, and he was better, but not enough.
"I was OK. I was where I needed to be [early]. And as the game went on, my arm started dragging and my fastball was up in the zone," Porcello said. "Everything was up in the zone, not just the fastball."
Porcello actually finished with his usual dose of ground-ball outs, 10 of them, compared with three popouts, but the vast majority of those came early. He retired six consecutive Twins after Ben Revere's leadoff hit. From the third inning on, though, he gave up eight hits, half of them for extra bases, against 12 outs. And it took a play at the plate for the last out, with Alex Avila withstanding a collision with Revere trying for an inside-the-park home run.
"I saw they were sending him," Avila said. "I was just getting ready for a play at the plate there, and that was about as close as you can get right there."
The play was a rallying point for the Tigers. The three runs that preceded it were not, leaving Porcello with six runs, four earned, over six innings.
"He made too many bad pitches," Leyland said, "especially with offspeed stuff."
Simply put, Porcello said, the fix he made between starts didn't stick.
"It's not a major thing at all," Porcello said. "It's one of those things where I thought I had it fixed in the first couple innings and as the game went on, I started getting back into bad habits. It takes the sink out of my fastball and starts running and staying in the zone. It wasn't nearly as bad as the last start. Tonight, I just think it was at times."
In the end, though, the add-on runs against Daniel Schlereth loomed large. Avila's RBI triple and score in the bottom of the inning drew the Tigers within a run, but Thome's second home run of the night, a three-run shot after walks to Trevor Plouffe and Justin Morneau provided the final difference.
It was another case of Thome knowing Tigers pitchers too well.
"It looked like he was sitting a little bit on the breaking ball," Schlereth said. "If I threw it a little more down in the zone, he might've swung over top of it or chopped one somewhere. But he's a great hitter. You can't make mistakes like that, and he made me pay for it."
He's done that to plenty of Tigers pitchers over the years.