Tigers get thumped again, but magic number falls to 1

Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Detroit — These close-to-clinching games sure have an ugly look about them.

And with more than a few boos for the Tigers on Saturday night, an ugly sound as well.

"I understand why they're booing," manager Brad Ausmus said. "We're in a situation where we can clinch a division and we give up 20-something runs over the course of two games?

"If I was sitting in the stands, I'd be booing, too."

Here, however, is the bottom line of what the possible scenarios still are.

The Tigers lost 12-3 to the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night at Comerica Park while the Royals were en route to a 5-4 defeat to the White Sox in Chicago.

The combination of outcomes means the Tigers' magic number is one. They can clinch their fourth consecutive American League Central championship with a victory on Sunday over the troublesome Twins.

"It's not been the prettiest way," said catcher Alex Avila, "but it's a chance. We'll take it."

However, if the worst-case occurs — that is, if the Tigers lose and the Royals win — the two teams will play a 163rd game at Comerica Park on Monday to determine the division winner.

The winner of that game will open the postseason on Thursday in Baltimore. The loser will be a wild-card team that plays on Tuesday.

To the Tigers, though, it's elementary.

"We have a game tomorrow we've got to win," Ausmus said, dialing up the urgency. "And I mean we've GOT to win."

As for the booing at Comerica Park, Ausmus is right: That's the noise frustrated fans make.

And Tigers fans are definitely frustrated, as the Tigers are themselves.

"I think they're more frustrated with themselves than anything else," Ausmus said.

"Today was almost a carbon copy of yesterday. A couple of defensive mistakes, we didn't pitch well — and you're in such a deep hole, it's hard to climb out."

But as Avila said, "You can't dwell on it. You just have to move on."

The Tigers have been outscored 23-7 by the Twins the last two games, though — and this time, fans were heading for the exits long before the last out.

They didn't bail en masse after the Twins' six-run fifth, but some did when it was 8-2 after seven innings — and many more did when the Twins added four runs in the eighth.

The Tigers went into Saturday night's game leading the Royals by one game with two to go. Now it's one with one to go — unless, that is, a 163rd game is required, as it was for the Tigers versus the Twins in 2009.

They still are in the driver's seat because they can clinch without help now. But it's not a driver's seat that feels comfortable as, for the second consecutive game, the Tigers did absolutely nothing to help themselves.

If anything, the score could have been worse than it was.

The only reason the Twins' six-run fifth wasn't a seven-run fifth, for instance, was because of a baserunning blunder.

Trying to advance two bases on a two-out single to center, Eduardo Escobar ran into the tag at third before teammate Oswaldo Arcia scored from second.

It wasn't a smart play.

Escobar more than made up for it, though, with a four-hit game in which he knocked in six runs, including a three-run home run off Tigers lefty Robbie Ray in the eighth.

The Twins' six-run fifth, however, blew open the gem that Tigers starter Kyle Lobstein appeared to be working on.

The strange thing is that, with an effective mix of speeds, Lobstein blanked the Twins through the fourth. They really hadn't come close to giving him any trouble.

So the run the Tigers scored in the second on Nick Castellanos' 11th home run, but his first since Aug. 16, was still on the board as the difference in the game when the top of the fifth began.

But its shelf-life as the difference was almost up.

The costliest gaffe of the fifth inning was Miguel Cabrera's inability to get an out on a bouncer to first with runners at first and second and one out.

Cabrera looked like he wanted to throw the ball to second, but hesitated to do so — and as he hesitated, he lost any chance to make a play at first.

So the Twins suddenly had the bases loaded with one out, their big inning just beginning.

"There was some confusion about whether there was coverage at first on Miggy's play," Ausmus said. "So he tried to get the out at second."

The first run — the game-tying run — scored on Brian Dozier's single to right. The second came in on Joe Mauer's grounder to second, the third and fourth on a single to center by catcher Eric Fryer, whose hit knocked Lobstein from the game.

Since the Tigers scored only three runs in the game, it doesn't really matter how the Twins scored their last eight. It only mattered that, by scoring them, it added to the ugliness of the evening.

Asked specifically about his pitching in the last two games, Ausmus replied, "It's been awful."

At a time, obviously, when it can't afford to be.

Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers

First pitch: 1:08 p.m.

TV/radio: FSD/1270


RHP Kyle Gibson (13-11, 4.50), Twins: Not finishing the year strongly. He's 2-2 with a 6.39 ERA in seven starts since Aug. 19.

LHP David Price (3-4, 3.97), Tigers: Has been good more often than not as a Tiger, but the Tigers are just 5-5 in his 10 starts.