September 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Only one big goal counts for the Tigers

Detroit Another night, another packed ballpark, another gaudy milestone. The Tigers keep piling up the numbers, while doggedly pursuing the last prize that truly matters.

Sometimes these long pursuits turn joyless, almost monotonous, milestones melding into millstones. The Tigers are determined to not let that happen, to play as if the weight isnt there, even though it is. This was Max Scherzers turn to sigh and smile and hit the big number, notching his 20th victory in the Tigers 12-5 squashing of the White Sox.

Scherzer is 20-3 and probably will win the Cy Young, and teammate Anibal Sanchez also will get consideration. The Tigers MVP streak could hit three straight, although injuries have slowed Miguel Cabreras pace. The achievements and plaudits are remarkable as the Tigers (90-64) churn toward a third straight division title, as 39,643 sat though the drizzle Friday night at Comerica Park to push the season attendance to the brink of 3 million.

And what, exactly, does it all mean? Plenty, but certainly not everything. This is the dichotomy for the Tigers these days much to celebrate, much more to do. It was Scherzers fifth attempt at No. 20 and he wanted it badly, not as badly as something else.

Ill appreciate it more once the season ends, Scherzer said. When you play on this team, your goal is to win and win in the playoffs, and try to get to the World Series and win the World Series. You dont get caught up in your personal achievements, no one here does. Thats what makes it beautiful even when I have a moment like this, the thought of winning something bigger is more important to me.

What about something bigger like the Cy Young? Scherzer didnt hesitate.

Thats after the World Series, he said. Were in the process of trying to win the division, thats the most exciting thing.

Dream job

As the accomplishments broaden, the focus narrows. Some days, Jim Leyland sits in his office and cant believe all hes seen, and has no desire to see it end. Hes 68 and in his eighth season here, and as the Tigers nudged closer to another playoff berth, he could sneak a moment to reflect.

Really, this is one of the dream jobs in baseball, Leyland said before the game. If you want to manage and you dont like this place, theres something wrong with you. Im not being corny or mushy, Im just telling you the facts. The place is packed, you got a beautiful stadium, you got a great owner, you got a smart general manager, you got good guys. Whats not to like?

Leyland wont take about his future until after the season, his contract year by year now. But its clear he loves it here and wants to stay, and for all the fan bluster about his strategy, he remains the perfectly steady influence on a team with so many high-profile stars.

Everyone knows the World Series-or-bust mentality, more pronounced as the years pass. The Tigers gathered for the team photo Friday, although owner Mike Ilitch wasnt in attendance. I dont think the 84-year-old owner needed a hall pass to skip it, but his absence from the annual event was a rarity, and perhaps a reminder of the urgency.

The only thing wed like to do yet, obviously, is get the total big prize, Leyland said. We got a couple nice prizes but wed like to get the big one. Thats easier said than done. There are 30 teams, so if everybody that didnt win the World Series is a failure I hate to think thats true.

Plenty of star power

Leyland is not minimizing the ultimate goal, so dont misinterpret it. But theres no sense piling pressure on a team that has lugged it along with a healthy payroll for years.

Since reaching the World Series in 2006, the Tigers have contended again and again with plenty of flash, but disappointing finishes. Justin Verlander won the MVP and Cy Young two years ago. Cabrera won the MVP and Triple Crown last season. Six Tigers were on the All-Star team and free-agents readily sign, from Victor Martinez to Prince Fielder to Torii Hunter.

Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski have put together something big, and Leyland is an important part of keeping it together. Its not as simple as filling out lineups and writing checks, either. Three of the Tigers top four starters Scherzer, Sanchez, Doug Fister arrived via trade.

No one should take anything for granted, and the Tigers certainly arent. But for it to be a crowning success, all the hefty numbers have to add up to a world championship.

Thats why Scherzer was genuinely happy about becoming the major leagues first 20-game winner, but far from giddy. He probably was a bit relieved after missing on four previous attempts.

I dont know if Max was feeling any pressure, but I couldnt be happier for him, Leyland said. I think he deserves (the Cy Young) very much, but I leave it to the guys that vote.

There will be time later to debate votes and awards and who deserves what. Those mean something, and for Scherzer, they should mean a lot. He has had a spectacular season. But there are no illusions for these Tigers, and no distracting from the final pursuit.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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Pitcher Max Scherzer was the latest Tiger to rack up a milestone -- his first career 20-win season -- in the team's 12-5 victory over the White Sox Friday. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News