Verlander, Miggy boost Tigers' cushion to two

Verlander, Miggy boost Tigers' cushion to two

Verlander, Miggy boost Tigers' cushion to two
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Tigers knew what the White Sox were doing Saturday afternoon. They couldn't miss it on the huge out-of-town scoreboard on the right-field wall at Target Field.

By the time they watched Ryan Doumit's opposite-field grand slam land in the flower bed beyond the left-field fence, they were worried about their own score.

"The heart starts pumping a little faster, obviously. That's a good thing," manager Jim Leyland said about Minnesota's eighth-inning comeback after Detroit held on for a 6-4 win. "If it don't pump at all, that's not good."

Or, as he described the American League Central race, which the Tigers now lead by two games, "It hasn't lacked for excitement."

Particularly on Saturday, it hasn't lacked for standout performances, either.

Justin Verlander put himself back in front of the conversation for another AL Cy Young Award with seven-plus strong innings. Miguel Cabrera put himself back in line for the Triple Crown with his 43rd home run of the year.

More important to both, the Tigers are back in a commanding position for their second straight AL Central title.

"Big game for us to gain a game in the standings," Verlander said. "Back to two games [up] with four to play, obviously it's big for us."

The Tigers' fifth win in their past six games combined with the White Sox 10-4 loss to the Rays created that two-game lead. Any combination of three Detroit wins or Chicago losses over the next four days will clinch the division.

To say the Tigers can smell it would be melodramatic, especially when taking care of their own business involved so much drama. Still, as they watched the White Sox game unfold on the scoreboard, they knew the significance.

"You've got to focus on your game," Cabrera said, "but somebody touching your back and saying, 'Look! Look!' That's the time when you look [at the scoreboard]. But you can't lose your focus. You have to stay in your game.

"First of all, you have to win games. If we win, we take care of it."

The sooner the Tigers can do it, the better, because it would allow them to rest ailing starter Max Scherzer for a potential Division Series start. Scherzer's availability for Wednesday's regular-season finale is a looming question.

Saturday, meanwhile, was a reminder that Verlander is a near certainty when he's on, and a potential handful for opponents in the postseason. Once he got his full assortment of pitches going in the early innings behind the late-afternoon shadows, he didn't give the Twins much of a chance.

Verlander (17-8) retired the first eight Twins he faced and allowed a lone walk through three innings. Yet Ben Revere's leadoff single in the fourth and a Joe Mauer walk gave Verlander his best showcase of the afternoon.

Up came the middle third of the Twins' order, beginning with Justin Morneau, owner of two home runs off Verlander in his career. In came Verlander's complete arsenal.

The fastball that had been 94-95 mph for the first few innings hit 99 mph twice against Morneau, who swung and missed at the latter of them.

Doumit, who drove in all four of Minnesota's runs in Friday's win, didn't see a fastball in any of his three pitches. He took a first-pitch changeup, watched a second-pitch curveball drop on the corner, then swung at a 90-mph changeup for strike three.

For Chris Parmelee, Verlander threw fastballs at 98, 99 and 100 mph, missed on an 0-2 curveball, then went back to it for a called third strike.

It won't go down among Verlander's best single innings because he allowed two baserunners. Still, it was a display.

"He knows how important that part of the game was," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He really started to let it fly there for a couple innings. And that's what he brings to the table. That's why he's won a Cy Young and is probably up there again."

The White Sox were down big early thanks to a rough start for Chris Sale, as the Tigers knew soon after they took the field for their game, which started at the same time. Once Prince Fielder hit his 29th home run and Jhonny Peralta doubled in a run, it looked for a long while that was all the lead Verlander needed.

With the score still 2-0, Austin Jackson's leadoff single and Quintin Berry's walk chased Alex Burnett in the eighth inning. Cabrera greeted ex-teammate Casey Fien with a line drive just over the left-field fence for his 43rd home run, tying Josh Hamilton for the AL lead.

Andy Dirks' eighth home run of the year completed the four-run inning. By the time Detroit batted in the ninth, it was a critical insurance run.

Verlander went into the eighth inning with 111 pitches, and Peralta's throwing error put Denard Span on base on pitch 117 to lead off the inning. Leyland said he was not going to let Verlander top 120 pitches at this point in the season, not with potential postseason outings looming.

"Verlander was getting to 116-117 and the part of the order that's had some success with him," Leyland said. "That was a no-brainer. I don't know if Joaquin, his concentration wasn't real good. I can't answer that. He just wasn't sharp."

Benoit has given up his share of home runs this year -- Doumit's was the 14th -- but 11 of them had been solo shots. When Mauer and Morneau drew back-to-back walks, it was just the second bases-loaded situation Benoit faced all year.

Doumit, obviously, emptied them.

"The location on the home-run pitch was perfect, fastball down and away," Avila said. "This is a tough park for a left-hander to go opposite field on, so you tip your hat to Doumit."

Once Trevor Plouffe singled and Jamey Carroll walked off Al Alburquerque, Pedro Florimon was the potential go-ahead run. He worked the count full before Alburquerque spotted a slider for strike three, pounding his glove on his way to the dugout. Jose Valverde worked the ninth for his 33rd save.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.