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Published: Wednesday, 9/30/2009

Tigers salvage split with Twins

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Justin Verlander couldn't bear to watch the Tigers' afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins.

"I didn't come to the ballpark until about 4:30," the right-hander said. "I glanced at the game on TV a few times, but I couldn't watch it. I would click it on, and then I'd click it right back off.

"I felt like a fan - one of the biggest Detroit Tiger fans out there - but just like a fan. It was strange, really weird. I don't know how fans do it."

Verlander allowed Tiger fans watching the night game on TV - and the 30,240 watching in person at Comerica Park - to breathe a little easier as he pitched Detroit to a 6-5 victory.

His 18th win of the season allowed the Tigers to split their day-night doubleheader after the Twins posted a 3-2 victory in 10 innings in the day portion of the twinbill.

The Tigers still lead the Twins by two games and have a "magic number" to claim their first-ever American League Central Division title of four. That means any combination of Detroit wins and Minnesota losses totaling four will allow the Tigers to clinch their first division crown since winning the AL East 1987.

Adam Everett and Placido Polanco high-five after scoring on a double by Magglio Ordonez in the third inning of Game 2 of the Tigers' doubleheader against the Twins. Adam Everett and Placido Polanco high-five after scoring on a double by Magglio Ordonez in the third inning of Game 2 of the Tigers' doubleheader against the Twins.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge

Detroit broke on top when Miguel Cabrera led off the second inning with a long home run to left. Detroit added a pair of runs in the third on a two-out, two-run double by Magglio Ordonez.

The Tigers made it 5-0 in the fifth when Ryan Raburn, Cabrera and Marcus Thames all drew walks off Twins starter Nick Blackburn, and Brandon Inge greeted reliever Bobby Keppel by lining a two-out, two-run single to left.

"[The key to the second game] was a mixture of Justin's pitching and our ability to come up big when we had runners in scoring position," said Curtis Granderson, who capped Detroit's scoring in the eighth with his 30th home run of the season.

Meanwhile Verlander dominated the Twins early, not allowing a runner past first base until the sixth, when Denard Span doubled with one out. Orlando Cabrera singled to scored Span, and Cabrera moved to third on a double by Joe Mauer.

Kubel lifted a sacrifice fly to center that plated Cabrera, but Verlander fanned Michael Cuddyer for his eighth and final strikeout of the night to close the inning.

Verlander faced more trouble in the eighth, when singles by Span and Cabrera brought Mauer to the plate as the tying run. The right-hander got Mauer to ground out, scoring Span, and Kubel followed with a double that plated Cabrera and put the tying run in scoring position.

But after an extremely brief mound visit by manager Jim Leyland, the Tigers' right-hander got Cuddyer to ground out.

"I basically told him I don't have anybody better than him, [so go get them]," Leyland said. "Some times that's a line I use, but with him I mean it."

There was one last bit of drama in the ninth when, with two outs and a runner on first, Tiger closer Fernando Rodney got Nick Punto to hit a hard liner to center. Granderson froze on the ball, allowing it to fly over his head for a run-scoring double.

But Rodney got Span to fly out to earn his 36th save.

The Tigers had no one to blame but themselves for the loss in the day game. They wasted a fine start from Rick Porcello by scoring just a single run, going 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

But the Tigers left seven runners on base in the first four innings before Twins starter Nick Blackburn retired the final 12 batters he faced.

Minnesota tied the game in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Span, but did little else off Porcello, who gave up just seven hits and one run in 61/3 innings.

In the tenth the Twins scored twice as Span singled, then moved to third on back-to-back wild pitches by Brandon Lyon. Cabrera's single scored Span, and a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Young plated Cabrera with an insurance run.

That run proved valuable when Granderson led off the bottom of the tenth with a home run off Joe Nathan, who retired the next three Detroit hitters to claim his 45th save.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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