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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tigers inch closer to third straight division title with a 6-2 win over M's

DETROIT -- No wonder we’re all getting gray hairs.

Despite the fact that the Tigers have been five or more games up in the standings virtually the entire time, it’s been a nerve-wracking few weeks for the Tigers, as they inch inexorably toward their third straight division title.

“It tough. It’s tough, and we’re trying our fanny off to get it,” manager Jim Leyland said.

“My stomach hasn’t been too good lately, to be honest with you. It’s not too good when the highlight of your day is getting up at 7 a.m. to go to the grocery store and get prune juice.

“That’s not a very good highlight.”

The Tigers took another step toward that goal with a 6-2 win over the Mariners Tuesday, a game that was a nail-biter until late.

It left them with a magic number of six to eliminate the second-place Indians, and three to eliminate the Kansas City Royals from the divisional race.

Even in the middle of a four-game set against the Mariners, it’s hard for the Tigers to maintain that they’re not watching the series between the Indians and Royals unfold, for all that they outwardly maintain the “one-game-at-a-time” facade.

“I watched it last night. Probably watch it again tonight. Where the (heck) am I going? I sat here in my long johns, barefoot. Had a little plate of food, watch the rest of the game. And loved every run that Kansas City scored,” Leyland said before Tuesday’s game.

“That’s pretty human, isn’t it?”

Kind of hard not to have one eye on a series that might help the Tigers clinch just that much faster.

“To be honest with you — and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t — you obviously watch a little closer now than you did. But I see scores on the scoreboard every night from Day One on. I mean, there’s a time when you have a break in the action, you look out. I mean, I look right out at it (Comerica’s auxiliary scoreboard in right-center field) all season long,” Leyland said. “I look at Pittsburgh, or St. Louis. I look. People are lying if they say they don’t look.”

It was a back-and-forth game that certainly didn’t help anyone’s digestion, at least early on, with rookie Brandon Maurer matching the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez.

“It’s tough, pitchers’ duels all the time, but as long as we come through with the win, it’s all that matters,” Torii Hunter said. “We got the ‘W’ today, we got the ‘W’ the last couple days, and that’s all that matters.”

Don Kelly gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the fourth.

Sanchez was brilliant through the first five innings, striking out nine before giving up a game-tying home run to Raul Ibanez with two outs in the sixth.

Miguel Cabrera untied it with his first home run since Aug. 26 in the bottom of the inning, but the Mariners brought it back even again, knocking Sanchez out in the seventh.

Michael Saunders led off with a triple, and scored on Kendrys Morales’ pinch-hit double two batters later to tie it at 2-2. After Sanchez exited the game having thrown 125 pitches -- five off his career high -- Al Alburquerque would get a pop up and a strikeout to get him out of the second-and-third jam.

“Especially if you throw 120 pitches, 120-plus pitches, for me I would like to be in the eighth or ninth inning, not too early like the sixth inning or something like that. It makes it a little bit tired but at the end, physical, you have to do your best right there. If you’re still on the mound you have to get some outs, especially that situation I have, runners on the corners, I need to make a good pitch,” Sanchez said.

“I’m not tired, more frustrated that I got the lead twice today I don’t keep the score. But at the end we win. That’s the most important thing.”

Sanchez left having struck out 10, the sixth time he’s hit double digits in strikeouts since joining the Tigers, and the ninth time in his career.

The Tigers, who are 10-1 in Sanchez’s last 11 starts, surged ahead again in the bottom of the seventh.

Alex Avila tripled to lead the inning off, but was caught in a rundown trying to score on Austin Jackson’s ground ball. He stayed in it long enough to get Jose Iglesias -- who’d been plunked -- to third, and Jackson to second.

Iglesias scored the go-ahead run on Torii Hunter’s sacrifice fly to center.

With Drew Smyly and closer Joaquin Benoit unavailable, the Tigers had to piece together 2 2/3 innings of relief following Sanchez’s departure. After Alburquerque got two outs, Phil Coke came on in the eighth, with two lefties and a switch hitter due up.

He walked two of the lefties, with an error on Iglesias sandwiched in between, forcing fellow lefty Jose Alvarez to face right-handed hitting Mike Zunino with the bases loaded. After an 11-pitch battle, Alvarez got a double play ball to get out of the jam, preserving the one-run lead.

“Obviously, I was trying for a groundball,” Alvarez said. “That was a good AB for the hitter -- a couple good pitches foul. ... If we don’t make the play in that situation, it costs us the game maybe, but we make it and we take the win.”

Leyland went with the lefty Alvarez to keep the Mariners from pinch hitting the speedy Endy Chavez against a right-handed reliever.

“I knew it was going to be Chavez against a right-hander, and you can’t double up Chavez, so I just took my chances, with (Alvarez’s) repertoire of pitches, that maybe he could get him out front and get a ground ball,” said Leyland, admitting that the 11-pitch at-bat made him nervous. “I don’t like those usually, because when a hitter sees that many pitches, he usually hits it hard somewhere. I wasn’t very comfortable. ... It wasn’t hit very hard, and to turn it was huge. That was obviously the play of the game.”

The Tigers finally broke it open in the eighth, with three straight singles padding the lead to 4-2, then a two-run single by Austin Jackson with the bases loaded making it 6-2.

Alvarez got the first two outs in the ninth, the Jose Veras came on to get the final out.


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