Tigers top Twins, cut magic number down to 2

Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Detroit — Win and wait, win and wait.

That's the way of it right now for the Tigers as the regular season ticks down.

But as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait — and in the form of a fourth consecutive American League Central championship, something good might take place on Friday for the Tigers.

With the combination of their 4-2 victory on Thursday night over the Minnesota Twins, and the Kansas City Royals' 6-3 triumph over the White Sox in Chicago, the Tigers' magic number to clinch has been reduced to two.

But with another victory over the Twins, and if the Royals lose to the White Sox on Friday night, the Tigers will have successfully defended their division title.

But they'll have to win and wait once more for that to happen.

"I've said the whole time that I'm not worried what Kansas City does," winning pitcher Max Scherzer said after the Tigers beat the Twins — and with the Royals-White Sox game not yet over.

"Usually, I'm only focused on what we do, but I actually want Kansas City to lose, because that way we can come to the park tomorrow and clinch it with a win.

"It would be so much better to win and celebrate, instead of having to wait an hour to see what they do."

Then again, the Tigers don't really care how they win the division as long as they win it.

And with their victory over the Twins, they have marched to the brink of the brink of clinching.

What, you ask, is the brink of the brink? That's when what you want to do might take two days to accomplish.

But either way, the Tigers are close to getting it done.

In this game, they put the pressure on the Twins by jumping in front early.

With Victor Martinez's 32nd home run, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the first. They made it 3-0 on Miguel Cabrera's solo shot in the fourth.

The Twins countered with two in the fifth off Scherzer, who ended the regular season with an 18-5 record — giving him a 39-8 record the last two years.

But the Tigers added a run in the seventh on Alex Avila's single, a sacrifice by Eugenio Suarez, and Rajai Davis' double to right.

It can't be said it was an easy victory, but again, who's needing easy with what is at stake — as long as it goes into the victory column?

Scoring two runs in the fifth was simply the Twins' way of saying "not so fast" as they reduced the lead to a run.

It was a two-out, none-on rally that did the damage — Joe Mauer doubling in both runs after singles by Danny Santana and Brian Dozier.

By the end of the Twins' fifth, however, Scherzer was looking at a pitch-count problem, in part because of the four walks he allowed.

"Even in the fifth, we were concerned about his pitch count," manager Brad Ausmus said.

So when Scherzer went back to the mound in the sixth, it looked like it was going to be his last inning (which it was) — unless he got three outs in 10 pitches or fewer (which he didn't).

He ended up with a pitch count of 116.

Joe Nathan earned his 34th save with a scoreless ninth, capping a procession of Tigers relievers (including Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain) who retired nine in a row.

Martinez's home run, of course, had given Scherzer an early lead. With two outs and Torii Hunter at third, Martinez's 1-2 drive to right off Twins' starter Trevor May landed on the Belle Tire awning.

And just like that, more than one of Victor's teammates, happy to see him connect, pretended to put fake binoculars up to their eyes — after which they pointed to center field as a reminder of Chris Sale complaining on Wednesday of signs being stolen during Martinez's at-bats.

It was an incident which obviously is going to have some shelf life.

"If they keep doing that," Ausmus said of how the Tigers reacted in the dugout, "I'm sure you guy will give it shelf life."

The home run was yet another indication of how much Martinez means to the Tigers lineup and why they simply could not tolerate the fact that Sale had arbitrarily drilled him with a fastball.

Two runs did not quickly lead to another for the Tigers, however, as May settled down. They didn't score again until the fourth when Cabrera lined his home run to left to lead off the inning.

"He's gotten hot this last month," Ausmus said of Cabrera, "and it's well-timed."

The only thing, at this point, that might not be well-timed is if the Tigers have to win and wait before their celebration starts.