Tigers Central lead cut to a game after Twins romp, 11-4
Detroit – About the time the Tigers were hoping to be dripping with champagne on Friday night, and acting crazy, they were quietly leaving the clubhouse to beat the crowd.
It was fireworks night at Comerica Park, after all. Time to get away fast, especially after a stinging defeat.
So there they were after an 11-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins, many of them carrying a pizza box as they departed rather than savoring the scene with their teammates.
Because there was no scene to savor.
The Tigers had been routed – and with the lopsided score by which they lost, along with a 3-1 victory for the second-place Royals in Chicago, the margin by which the Tigers lead the American League Central was cut in half.
It's now one game instead of two.
But with two games remaining instead of three.
The Tigers can still do it themselves, of course. If they win their final two games, no matter what the Royals do, the Tigers will win the division for the fourth consecutive year.
They can even do it with a win over the Twins in their next game and a loss by the Royals to the White Sox on Saturday night.
Any combination of Tigers' victories and/or Royals' losses totaling two will get it done. That's the Magic Number: Two.
And while you can speculate about what should happen over the weekend, there's no telling what will happen – because if it were that simple, a win by the Tigers started by Rick Porcello over the Twins, who were starting Anthony Swarzak on Friday night, would have been predicted.
Instead, Porcello ended up with a winless September.
Played with pride, the Twins grabbed a 6-0 lead by the fourth and rebounded from having their lead cut in half by scoring five of the game's final six runs.
Did the Tigers create a mess for themselves by losing? Not exactly. With time ticking down, they still have the advantage.
But if the same win-loss combination occurs on Saturday night, anything goes. The Tigers and Royals would be tied with one game remaining.
Of Porcello, who will only pitch again this season if the Tigers get to the division series, manager Brad Ausmus thinks there's no reason to worry.
"I don't see that there's a huge degradation of his stuff," he said. "The ball is still sinking. His breaking ball is still good. It's just a matter of location.
"I'm not blind to the fact that (Porcello's struggles) could be related to innings, but we can't not start Rick Porcello."
It's with that same reality that Ausmus looks at Saturday night's game for the Tigers, who will start rookie Kyle Lobstein.
"He's pitched well, but, again, there aren't a lot of options going on for us.
"Tonight wasn't a good night for us," Ausmus said. "It wasn't a good night for our pitching staff overall. But we have to find a way to win, regardless. We have two games left to sew this thing up. It's in our hands, but we have to do it."
Tigers' outfielder Rajai Davis looks at the situation with the same sense of realism.
"We still have to play our game and win," he said. "I know they're not going to roll over for us" – a comment that could have meant both the Twins and Royals.
One bright spot for the Tigers was that Anibal Sanchez, with an inning of scoreless relief, pitched for first time since Aug. 8, the day before a strained chest muscle put his season on hold for nearly seven weeks.
"I'm sure it was a little bit of a new experience for him," Ausmus said of Sanchez working in relief, "but I thought he looked fine. I wanted his first outing to be stress-free.
"I'd rather the score had been reversed, but in one regard, it was nice we were able to do that."
The way Porcello pitched was not a bright spot, though.
"I definitely feel responsible for this loss," he said. "I'm obviously not happy about it, but hopefully I'll get an opportunity in the post-season and redeem myself."
Even with the pounding he took in this game, and a winless September, Porcello ended up with a 3.43 ERA for the season – by far the lowest ERA of his career.
Then again, it was the finest season of his career, the first time he's won as many as 15 games.
It just wasn't his night.
A first-pitch ground-rule double to deep left-center by Danny Santana was proof of that – as was the result of his second pitch, an RBI single for Brian Dozier.
"I threw two pitches and gave up a run in the first inning," Porcello said. "I don't know if I've ever done that."
But there was a bigger problem.
"I gave up two big home runs," Porcello said, referring to Oswaldo Arcia's two-run shot in the first and Brian Dozier's solo home run in the third. I got into bad counts in both those situations and left fastballs over the middle of the plate."
The Twins added two in the fourth on Nick Castellanos' bad throw to first with runners at second and third and two outs.
The Tigers countered with a run in the fourth and two in the fifth off Swarzak, who had held them hitless the first three innings.
The Tigers looked like they were getting back in it in the fifth when they narrowed the lead to 6-3 on run-scoring singles by Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera.
But that's as far as the rally went.
And when the Twins tacked on four more in the sixth, that's also as far as Friday night's hope of clinching went.