The Tigers capped a fantastic four-week stretch tonight by clinching their first division title since 1987. Their 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics officially eliminated the Indians who earlier beat the twins.
With almost two weeks left in the season, this one came a lot earlier than the 1987 title. That one came on the last day of the season completing the most thrilling pennant race of my lifetime. Southpaw Frank Tanana pitched a complete game shutout to outduel Blue Jays starter Jimmy Key 1-0. Outfielder Larry Herndon provided the only run with a solo homer.
Much like the 1987 clincher, this one featured an outstanding performance by a Tigers starter. Doug Fister allowed just one run on three hits and no walks through eight innings. At one point, the tall slim righthander had retired 17 batters in a row.
It's the kind of game we have come to expect from a pitcher who has had as much to do with the Tigers surge as anyone on the team. In his last six starts, he has posted a tremendous 0.81 ERA and a 41/4 K/BB ratio in 44 2/3 innings. Past mid-season acquisitions Woodie Fryman (1972) and Doyle Alexander (1987) also were keys to division titles, but they have nothing on this guy.
Fister threw only 91 pitches and probably could have pitched the ninth, but manager Jim Leyland called upon his invincible closer to finish it off. Jose Valverde gave up a lead-off double to Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp, but then proceeded to retire the side for his 45th save in 45 opportunities.
The Tigers offense came from the most improbable sources tonight, but the way things have been going for this team you can expect the unexpected. They tied the game at one in the third inning when second baseman Ramon Santiago tripled and then scored on a single by right fielder Don Kelly. Third baseman Wilson Betemit then tripled home Jhonny Peralta run in the sixth for the go ahead run. Kelly added another in the seventh with a solo shot to right field.
It shouldn't have taken this long for the Tigers to win a division title. There's been a lot of frustration with disappointing teams and second half collapses. The past failures just make this one so much sweeter though.
The American League Central finally belongs to the Tigers.