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Published: Saturday, 9/8/2007

Tigers starting to groove

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tigers leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson is congratulated by designated hitter Gary Sheffield after scoring in the first inning. Tigers leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson is congratulated by designated hitter Gary Sheffield after scoring in the first inning.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge

DETROIT - Curtis Granderson joined the likes of Willie Mays and George Brett.

He was able to relish the accomplishment, too, because it helped the Detroit Tigers in the wild-card race.

Granderson's homer put him in elite company and Justin Verlander gave up one run over eight innings as Detroit beat the Seattle Mariners 6-1 last night for its first three-game winning streak in nearly two months.

"That makes it all the better," Granderson said.

Granderson hit his 20th home run in the seventh inning, making him just the sixth player since 1900 with at least 20 homers, 20 triples and 20 doubles in one season. Brett, in 1979 for Kansas City, was the last player to pull off the feat and Mays also did it.

"As he goes, this team goes," Detroit designated hitter Gary Sheffield said.

The Tigers hadn't won three straight since sweeping Minnesota from July 17-19, putting them 21 games over .500 and two games ahead of Cleveland in the AL Central.

Since then, the Tigers have often failed to pitch and hit well in the same game and they fell way behind the Indians - leaving the defending AL champions to hope for a wild-card spot.

"We're starting to get our confidence level high, like it was last year, as we feel the excitement of trying to get in like last year," Granderson said.

"This is exactly where we want to be."

Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge, Ivan Rod-riguez and Carlos Guillen each drove in a run to help the Tigers beat Seattle in the opener of a three-game series involving the top two teams chasing the New York Yankees for the final spot in the AL playoffs.

Detroit trails the Yankees by three games in the wild-card race, after New York beat the Kansas City Royals 3-2. Seattle is four games back.

"We're playing and pitching good, but it's pretty much mandatory because of the standings," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

Seattle lost for the 12th time in 13 games, and fell a game behind Detroit in the wild-card race.

"Just don't feel good about ourselves right now," Mariners manager John McLaren said. "Losing knocks you down.

"We have hit such a low point. Kind of like 'Here we go again,' and we've got to cut out that."

Verlander (16-5) allowed seven hits while walking none and striking out three.

"I didn't have my best fastball or changeup," he said. "But I was aggressive early and got some groundballs and popups."

He has won his last three starts, combining to give up just two runs and spark a struggling rotation, after going 2-2 in his seven outings leading up to his current streak.

"We just get spoiled," Leyland said. "You expect the guy to go out there and be perfect every time."

Miguel Batista (13-11) gave up six runs, nine hits and three walks over 6 2-3 innings, losing his third straight start.

"We can't blame anybody for our situation," said Batista, who has allowed 20 runs in his last three games. "We just have to battle through it."

Guillen's RBI single with two outs in the seventh put Detroit ahead 6-1 and chased Batista.

"They only hit two really hard balls," Batista insisted.

Seattle loaded the bases with singles against Verlander in the seventh, but the reigning AL Rookie of the Year got out of the jam by striking out pinch-hitter Jeremy Reed and getting Yun-iesky Betancourt to line out.

"I was on second," Seattle's Ben Broussard said. "I saw the pitches he was throwing. They were good."

The game was interrupted by a 31-minute rain delay - short enough for both teams to keep their starting pitchers in the game - with the Tigers leading 3-1 in the top of the fifth.

"If that rain delay goes an hour or an hour and 15 minutes, Verlander is not going back out," Leyland said. "We lucked out."

NOTES: Granderson joined the 20-homer, 20-triple, 20-double club with Brett, Mays in 1957 for the New York Giants, Jeff Heath of the Cleveland Indians in 1941, Jim Bottomley of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928, and Frank Schulte of the Chicago Cubs in 1911. Granderson is one stolen base away from his 20th, which would put him in company with just Mays and Schulte. ... Seattle recalled RHP Jorge Campillo from Triple-A Tacoma, giving him the roster spot available when RHP Rick White was released Thursday. ... Polanco hit his career-high 31st double. ... Seattle DH Jose Vidro was 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored.

PHOENIX - The Arizona Diamondbacks signed veteran reliever Bob Wickman yesterday to add bullpen depth.

The 38-year-old right-hander was released by the Atlanta Braves last month. He was 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 49 appearances this season. The former Indian had 20 saves in 26 appearances.

Wickman joins a bullpen that has been one of the strengths of the surprising Diamondbacks, who led the NL West by one game entering play Friday.

"We've got arms down there," manager Bob Melvin said, "but this is another quality arm that's been through it."

Wickman can spell any of Arizona's usual late-inning trio of Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena and closer Jose Valverde. He also could come in to shut down an opponent in the sixth, Melvin said.



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