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Detroit – It's been a bumpy ride. Even manager Brad Ausmus admits that now.

And, sure enough, it was bumpy again on Tuesday night with the White Sox wrenching a victory away from David Price by scoring three runs to tie the game in the ninth.

"A microcosm of the season?" Ausmus asked rhetorically.

But after a 4-3 victory over the White Sox -- Miguel Cabrera driving in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the ninth -- the Tigers have bumped their way to the brink of another playoff spot, which could be clinched as soon as Wednesday.

Their magic number to do so is two.

Any combination of two -- which could be accomplished with another Tigers' victory plus another Seattle Mariners' defeat -- and the Tigers have made it to the postseason again.

But because their lead over Kansas City is still just one game with five to play, it has not been decided if the Tigers will be in the postseason as the champions of the American League Central or as a wild-card team.

A pressure situation? Not according to Torii Hunter.

"Pressure is for those who don't study for tests," he said.

The Tigers' exact spot in the playoffs, therefore, is still to unfold -- just as it took the entire game for this victory to unfold.

It wasn't until Cabrera singled to left following a leadoff single in the ninth by Ian Kinsler and a walk to Hunter that it unfolded in the Tigers' favor.

But instead of Price getting the victory, after taking a three-hit shutout into the ninth, Joe Nathan (5-4) did for getting Carlos Sanchez to fly out to center on a 1-0 pitch with the bases loaded.

"I just challenged him with a strike," Nathan said. "I wasn't going to go 2-0 in that situation."

About not bringing in Nathan until the game was tied, Ausmus said Price's "velocity was the same it had been all game.

"I went out there thinking I was going to leave him in the game unless he told me he was running out of gas – and it didn't look like he had.

"You walk away hoping it was the right move,"Ausmus said, "but I felt good about it at the time."

The flurry of a finish was in stark contrast to the rest of the game.

Neither team scored until Rajai Davis scored on a throwing error to third by catcher Josh Phegley in the fifth.

Another error, this one by White Sox third baseman Marcus Semien, contributed to the Tigers' two-run seventh – Kinsler and Hunter knocking in the runs with a single and double, respectively.

But even with the clinching of a playoff berth near, Ausmus said the journey hasn't been smooth – a truism this game re-enforced.

"It's been very up and down, without question," Ausmus said before the game. "I've been on teams that have started slow, then finished strong.

"I've been on teams that started strong, then finished slow, but I've never been on a team that started strong, took a nosedive, played well again, and took another dive. It's been a roller-coaster."

The strangest season he's been through?

"As a manager," he said, drawing laughs. "I can't remember one stranger.

"But there's no one thing that glares out at me as the reason. There's a number of different things that contributed, but nothing which stands out as the reason it was up and down.

"I couldn't give you a specific."

Along the way, though, the Tigers have always bounced back from stubbing their toe – just as they did with this game during a drought of not being able to hit with runners in scoring position.

When Kinsler singled in Andrew Romine from third in the seventh, the Tigers had gone hitless in their last 20 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

In this game, they'd been 0-for-5 before Kinsler's hit.

"Our bats had been quiet the last couple of days," Ausmus said. "I hope the game jump-starts us, but you just don't know until you look in the rearview mirror a week down the road."

The only reason the game was scoreless to start the bottom of the fifth was because of J.D. Martinez's catch of Phegley's would-be home run in the top of the inning.

It wasn't an acrobatic catch that Martinez had to make, but the high drive definitely would have been a home run if he hadn't reached up above the top of the wall and hauled it in.

"I thought it was gone when it left the bat," Ausmus said. "Then I was reading J.D.'s body language, but I still thought it was gone."

So instead of being down by a run when they come up to hit in the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers were looking to score the game's first run – which they did.

They scored the next two runs as well.

And at the end of the game, the Tigers knew that Seattle had lost – which meant they also knew what gets clinched if the same combination of a Tigers' win and a Mariners' loss takes place again.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage



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