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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2012

Tigers win AL Central title after holding off Royals

Cabrera HR helps Detroit into playoffs

ASSOCIATED PRESS

KANSAS CITY — Miguel Cabrera had four hits, in­clud­ing a ho­mer dur­ing a five-run sixth in­ning, and the Detroit Tigers held off the Kan­sas City Roy­als 6-3 Mon­day night to clinch the AL Cen­tral ti­tle. 

Ger­ald Laird added a bases-loaded dou­ble, Rick Por­ce­llo (10-12) pitched shut­out ball into the sixth in­ning and Jhonny Per­alta went deep off Bruce Chen (11-14) to help Detroit reach the post­sea­son in con­sec­u­tive years for the first time since 1934-35.

"We wanted to win this game. That was our goal, to win this one," Cabrera said. "We did it."

After hang­ing over the dug­out rail­ing the en­tire ninth in­ning, the Tigers streamed onto the field and be­hind the pitch­ers' mound to cel­e­brate their ac­com­plish­ment the mo­ment Jose Valverde got Al­cides Esco­bar to ground out to short­stop with a run­ner on sec­ond for his 35th save in 40 chances.

The Tigers (87-73) will have the worst record among AL di­vi­sion cham­pi­ons, which means they'll open the play­offs Satur­day at home against the di­vi­sion win­ner with the sec­ond-best mark.

Not that when and where mat­ters much to Jim Ley­land's bunch.

They're just glad to be back in the play­offs.

"It was a rocky road, it was a tough sea­son, but in this busi­ness, you have to be able to take some hits," Ley­land said. 

"This isn't a place for the faint-hearted. Hell, we took a lot of punches, a lot of them jus­ti­fied, some of them maybe not. But hey, we can take a punch."

After win­ning the di­vi­sion by 15 games last sea­son and sign­ing Prince Fielder in the off­sea­son, the Tigers en­tered spring train­ing with lofty ex­pec­ta­tions. But they got off to a sur­pris­ingly slow start and were be­low .500 in early July. They were still well be­hind Chi­cago early last month.

The White Sox fal­tered, though, and the Tigers took ad­van­tage.

"It wasn't easy," said Fielder, who also had four hits, "but we got it done."

Now, with Cabrera clos­ing in on base­ball's first Tri­ple Crown since 1967 and Justin Ver­lander in con­ten­tion for a sec­ond straight Cy Young Award, Detroit is the hot­test team in the ma­jors.

Right-hander Ani­bal San­chez has been ter­rific down the stretch, Fielder and Austin Jack­son are hav­ing big years at the plate, and the shoddy field­ing that could have forced the Tigers to sit home in Oc­to­ber has im­proved to the point that they'll be press­ing on into the post­sea­son.

"You get that kind of mo­men­tum, usu­ally it ends up very good," team owner Mike Ilitch said.

The im­proved field­ing was never more ev­i­dent than in the fifth in­ning Mon­day night, when the Roy­als had loaded the bases. 

Esco­bar hit a hard grounder just to the side of sec­ond base, and Omar In­fante made a nice glove-flip to Per­alta cov­er­ing the bag to end the in­ning.

The play al­lowed the Tigers to cling to a 1-0 lead, pro­vided by Per­alta's ho­mer in the fifth in­ning, un­til they could tack on five more runs in the sixth.

Cabrera broke a tie with the Rangers' Josh Ham­il­ton for the ma­jor league lead in hom­ers with his 44th, a solo shot to right, and two field­ing mis­takes by David Lough in cen­ter led to an­other run.

Laird's bases-loaded dou­ble knocked Chen from the game, and ef­fec­tively knocked the White Sox out of the play­offs, though they didn't do much to help them­selves down the stretch.

Chi­cago beat the In­di­ans 11-0 Mon­day night for just its third win in 13 games.

Mean­while, the Tigers have won seven of their last eight as they surged to the di­vi­sion crown, in­clud­ing five straight against the Roy­als, who have dropped eight of their last nine.

Por­ce­llo kept the Roy­als off the score­board un­til the sixth, when Alex Gor­don's ho­mer to right field fi­nally gave Kan­sas City some life. Ley­land wasted no time lift­ing his right-hander, who'd done enough to end a string of six straight losses and pick up his first vic­tory in nine starts.

Cabrera had sin­gles in the fourth, sev­enth, and ninth in ad­di­tion to his ho­mer in the sixth, push­ing his AL-lead­ing av­er­age to .329, ahead of the An­gels' Mike Trout and the Twins' Joe Mauer. Cabrera also moved his as­ton­ish­ing RBI to­tal to 137, by far the best in the ma­jors.

Cabrera was only part of the party Mon­day night, though, slap­ping backs and ex­chang­ing high-fives with the rest of his team­mates as Detroit locked up its place in the post­sea­son.

He could be the cen­ter of the cel­e­bra­tion when the reg­u­lar sea­son ends Wed­nes­day night.

"He's un­be­liev­able. He's a once-in-a-life­time player," Tigers gen­eral man­ager Dave Dom­browski said. "I talked to him and he said, 'The Tri­ple Crown is im­por­tant, but it's not the most im­por­tant thing. I want to win a cham­pi­on­ship.'"

NOTES: The Roy­als cel­e­brated the 20th an­ni­ver­sary of George Brett's 3,000th hit, which oc­curred on Sept. 30, 1992. ... RHP Doug Fis­ter will start for Detroit to­day against RHP Jer­emy Guth­rie of the Roy­als. ... 1B Eric Hos­mer could miss the fi­nal two games of the sea­son with a strained right shoul­der, Roy­als man­ager Ned Yost said.

Baker re­turns to Reds

ST. LOUIS — Dusty Baker missed the Cin­cin­nati Reds' di­vi­sion-clinch­ing win. He watched Homer Bai­ley's no-hit­ter on TV.

Back for his first full day on the job Mon­day af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a mini-stroke in Chi­cago, the vet­eran man­ager takes it as a sign there'll be more good news ahead.

"The way I look at it, the big one's to come," Baker said "I'm fine now. I'm not 100 per­cent, but I'm pretty close."



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