The Tigers rarely make things easy on themselves, and yet, here they are, one game away from consecutive AL Central titles. Anibal Sanchez pretty much picked up right where he left off in his last start. He wasn’t quite as dominant and had to pitch out of a few jams, but he got tough when he needed to, especially in the sixth inning, when he got out of a first-and-third, no out situation with no runs scoring. Unfortunately, he ran into a little bit of bad luck in the seventh, giving up a run on an infield hit, a bunt, and a broken-bat single to right, which chased him from the game. He would end up with a no-decision, but it was definitely a good outing for Sanchez.
Phil Coke would get the final two outs of the seventh inning, although not without a couple tense moments (namely, a single by Denard Span and an intentional walk to Joe Mauer, but he got Justin Morneau to ground out on the next pitch). With Joaquin Benoit unavailable, Jim Leyland turned to Octavio Dotel to handle the eighth inning. Again, things got a little tense thanks to a couple of two-out singles by the Twins, but Dotel got Pedro Florimon to line out to left to preserve the lead (and even though I made the joke that Dotel got the nod because of all the relievers, he’s gone the longest without upsetting the fanbase, the truth is that the Tigers are going to need the contributions of all back-end and strikeout-specialist relievers in the postseason). Jose Valverde had a 1-2-3 inning for the save, although you could argue that the save should go to Austin Jackson, who made two good catches in the inning.
Meanwhile, the offense could do nothing against Liam Hendriks. In the preview thread, I noted that Hendriks was a flyball pitcher who has given up a lot of home runs. Instead, the Tigers hit ten groundball outs against only three flyouts, and did not come close to hitting a home run. Once the Twins took the lead in the seventh inning, they brought Jared Burton in for the eighth. Burton has done a good job in the Twins bullpen this year, but for some reason, the Tigers found him more to their liking than Hendriks. Jackson led off with a single, and even though Quintin Berry struck out, Miguel Cabrera hit an absolute laser that Florimon somehow snagged (and the combination of Cabrera going 0-for-3 and Joe Mauer getting three hits has tightened the batting race up considerably). However, that was no problem for Prince Fielder, who hit his second opposite-field home run in as many days. The celebration in the dugout (and the numerous relievers mugging the camera as Fielder was being interviewed postgame) made one thing clear: The Tigers can feel it. They’re so close.
And now the Tigers just need to win one more game (or the White Sox have to lose one more game, but it’s more fun to see the Tigers win). They’ll get their first crack at it tomorrow night in Kansas City. It’s Rick Porcello against Bruce Chen.