MINNEAPOLIS — That large early lead was long gone for the Detroit Tigers. They saw Kansas City's comeback slowly unfolding on the out-of-town scoreboard.
No sweat. One big swing by Torii Hunter eased the pennant-race tension.
Hunter and Miguel Cabrera hit back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning to help the Tigers tighten their grip on the American League Central by winning their fourth straight game, 8-6 over the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
"Miggy didn't want me to have fun and celebrate too much. Before I could even get my elbow guard and my toe guard off, he hit one," Hunter said. "But all in all, it was a battle. Great win. Great game."
The Tigers began the second-to-last week of the regular season with a lead of 1 1-2 games over the Royals, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat Chicago 4-3. The Tigers have 12 games remaining, and the Royals have 13 left. They play this weekend in Kansas City.
The Tigers, who will face the last-place Twins six more times, lost a 6-0 lead they built by the fifth. But after Joe Mauer's second two-run single tied the game for the Twins in the eighth inning, Hunter hit the first pitch of the ninth from Casey Fien (5-6) into the bullpen behind left-center field.
Cabrera then crushed one to the same spot two pitches later.
"They know I'm going to come in and attack," Fien said, "and it backfired on me."
Max Scherzer's 17th victory vanished when the bullpen stumbled, but just a few minutes later he was shouting in celebration in the clubhouse.
"When T blasts one out there to left to give us the lead back, that gives us all the momentum. We're going to win this game," Scherzer said. "And obviously Miggy, well, that's Miggy."
Kyle Ryan (2-0) earned the victory by getting pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez to ground into a double play to end the eighth, and Joakim Soria converted his first save opportunity since being acquired by the Tigers despite allowing a leadoff double. Regular closer Joe Nathan had the night off to rest.
"I'd rather get a lead and hold it, but that wasn't in the cards tonight," Ausmus said. "We saw that Kansas City was working its way back. We certainly would've loved it if Chicago could hold on, but we've got to keep our house in order."
The Tigers had 16 hits, with three each by Cabrera, Andrew Romine and J.D. Martinez. Romine's two-run single in the fourth, and Martinez's RBI single in the first were two of 11 hits against Twins starter Anthony Swarzak, who didn't finish the fifth inning.
Scherzer breezed through 13 batters, surrendering just one single, but Oswaldo Arcia hit a towering home run in the fifth inning to get the Twins going. Mauer smacked a two-run single up the middle that zoomed past Scherzer in the sixth. Trevor Plouffe added a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 6-4.
Last year's AL Cy Young Award winner stopped the rally there, retiring Arcia on a called third strike. Scherzer struck out five in seven innings.
Joba Chamberlain then walked two batters to start the eighth, and Danny Santana and Brian Dozier executed a double steal against Phil Coke. Mauer, after fouling off three full-count pitches, sliced a single into left field to drive in both runners and reach 50 RBIs for the season.
The announced crowd of 19,700 was the smallest to see the Twins since Target Field opened in 2010.
The Tigers held catcher Alex Avila out as a precaution after pulling him from the game on Sunday afternoon because he felt light-headed. Avila has a concussion history, but manager Brad Ausmus said Avila felt fine by night and again in the morning. He could play on Tuesday.
Twins right-hander Tommy Milone had an MRI test on his stiff neck that revealed inflammation but no structural damage. General manager Terry Ryan said there is still a possibility Milone will pitch again this season.
Rick Porcello (15-11, 3.23 ERA) pitches Tuesday for the Tigers, looking to snap a three-start losing streak. The Tigers have scored a total of four runs over those three previous turns. For the Twins, Ricky Nolasco (5-11, 5.64 ERA) will take the mound. He is winless in his last seven starts.