DETROIT - They came to celebrate, to sing and dance to "We Are the Champions," to give their Detroit Tigers a curtain call or two or three on a sunny fall afternoon that begged for festivity.
Instead, many in a packed house left early.
Manager Jim Leyland decided to go with them.
And then it just got plain silly.
A game that might have sealed the AL Central championship for the Tigers instead ended up as a one-sided 8-3 Minnesota victory that featured 13 pitchers and three ejections and five errors and benches clearing and three hit-by-pitches and a couple more that might have been except the pitches were so far awry they missed their marks.
"It absolutely turned into a bit of a strange game at the end," Leyland agreed.
It was one of those errant pitches that hit nobody that led to Leyland's early exit yesterday at Comerica Park. But he was already riled up by then. So, we take you back to the bottom of the seventh when Ramon Santiago reached on an error to open the inning with the Tigers trailing 4-1.
Magglio Ordonez popped out to center, and then Miguel Cabrera flew out to that skinny slice of foul territory deep down the right-field line. As Minnesota's Denard Span crashed into the wall after catching the ball, Santiago tagged up and easily took second base.
The Twins eventually threw the ball to first on an appeal and home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, about halfway down the line, ended the inning by calling Santiago out for leaving the base early.
Leyland and more than 40,000 others were blind-sided by the call, and the Tigers' skipper and the ump had a short but heated conversation.
"In fairness to the umpire, when you have to call it with the naked eye it's a lot harder than watching it on replay," Leyland said later. "But after watching [the replay], it was a legitimate tag."
Anyway, Leyland got tossed an inning later, apparently offended that Hernandez issued warnings to both benches after Minnesota reliever Jose Mijares threw his first pitch behind Adam Everett's head. Leyland declined to discuss it.
When Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman opened the ninth by not-so-subtly putting a fastball into the back of Delmon Young's knee, Bonderman was automatically ejected and catcher Gerald Laird joined him after giving Hernandez a piece of his mind.
Perhaps the most bizarre element was an irate Young seemingly trying to rush his own bench, maybe blaming Mijares for the whole thing.
"I'll admit I've never seen that before," Laird said later. "I guess everybody got caught up in the emotion of the game."
The Tigers, who could have won the division crown, fell behind early, tried to keep their fingers in the dike and claw back, but saw it all go for naught when reliever Bobby Seay was lit up in the top of the eighth.
So the magic number remains at two - any combination of Tiger wins or Twins losses - with three games left in the season. A closing series here against
Chicago is on tap for Detroit while the Twins go home to play Kansas City.
"Give the Twins credit," said Laird, who reached base three times. "It was a must-win for them and they battled us. But we're still in the driver's seat. We got a split in this series, which was to our advantage, and now if we take it to the White Sox we'll be celebrating."
Leyland knows it won't necessarily be easy.
"I know Ozzie [Guillen, the Chicago manager] and his guys will come in here and try to kick our fannies and I'm sure Kansas City will go into Minnesota and try to do the same thing," Leyland said. "This was kind of an uphill battle for us all day and eventually it got out of hand. The Twins did what they had to do. I think you saw two very good teams fighting to try to find the finish line.
"So, now we keep playing, and we'll find out pretty soon who gets there first."
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