Twins clinch Central division title; Tigers lock up No. 1 pick in 2020 draft
Detroit — While his former team was in its clubhouse awaiting the outcome of the Indians-White Sox game from Chicago, with the champagne on ice, ready to celebrate their American League Central Division title after beating the Tigers 5-1 Wednesday, things were subdued in the home clubhouse — no mention of the Tigers securing the first pick in the 2020 draft, which they did.
"We aren't trying to put ourselves in a position to do that," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I know some of our fans are thinking that is great. But we're just trying to go out and play.
"Our guys are just trying to get through this thing. It's really tough right now."
It had to be bittersweet for Gardenhire, too. He had been a part of that Twins organization from 1991 through 2014 and when the White Sox defeated the Indians, 8-3, they were popping corks in his house.
“You don’t want them to clinch it in your house, on your field,” Gardenhire said before the game. “But if anybody is going to do it in front of us, Joe (Vavra) and I can take a little comfort in knowing we worked there for quite a while.”
Gardenhire managed the Twins from 2002 through 2014. Vavra, the Tigers quality control coach, was with the Twins from 2006 to 2017.
“There’s good memories and family and friends from there who are still there, people who work in the organization,” Gardenhire said. “If somebody is going to do it in front of us, I’d rather it be them than any other organization.”
But while the Twins waited, Gardenhire was doing what he's done all season, through 111 losses — trying to turn young mistakes on the field into teaching lessons.
"We knew this was going to be a fighting year," Gardenhire said. "When had all those injuries coming out of spring training, we knew it would be a battle and it has been. There's a lot of kids playing in the big leagues, getting experience. That's what rebuilds are."
The game was decided by a pair of two-run home runs — by Luis Arrez off Drew VerHagen in the seventh and by Eddie Rosario off John Schreiber in the eighth. It was the latter that provided the night's primary teaching moment.
"Schreiber came in facing a right-hander (Nelson Cruz with a runner at third and one out) with the infield in," Gardenhire said. "I told him to sink the ball, let's get a ground ball. And he threw a slider."
Cruz singled in a run.
"And then to Rosario, after he had him chasing away, he threw another slider," Gardenhire said of the home run ball. "Young mistakes and they've got to learn from that. I wanted a sinker. If I wanted a slider I would've brought somebody else in. The sinker is how he's going to stay in the big leagues."
Gardenhire pointed out that next season, relievers will be required to face a minimum of three hitters. So Schreiber will have to be able to get both right-handers and left-handers out.
"He realizes he made a mistake and that's OK," Gardenhire said.
The Tigers offense was limited to two hits and one unearned run. Right-hander Randy Dobnak, who just two years ago was pitching for Utica in the United Shores Professional Baseball League, gave up an RBI double to Jeimer Candelario in the first inning and nothing else through six innings.
"This is definitely going to be, easily, one of the wildest weeks of my life," said Dobnak who has a 1.59 ERA in 28 innings since being called up on Aug. 8. "Just to go out there and give our team a chance to win tonight was something that I was really looking forward to do, and luckily things turned out well for us.”
The run was unearned after shortstop Jorge Polanco booted a ground ball by Miguel Cabrera. When Cabrera scored from first on Candelario's double, it was, according to Baseball Reference, the first time he had scored from first on a double since 2016.
"We didn't really make a lot of hard contact," Gardenhire said.
It was the eighth and final start of the season for the Tigers’ NorHagen tandem. And both Daniel Norris and Drew VerHagen were sharp.
Norris, in his final start of the season, allowed two singles and struck out five in his three innings. He threw 17 change-ups and got seven swings and misses with it. Over these last eight three-inning stints, he’s posted a 2.25 ERA with 23 strikeouts and five walks in 24 innings.
"The biggest thing is, I stayed healthy the whole year," Norris said. "That's been my goal ever since I wasn't staying healthy. Kudos to the trainers and the strength coaches and everybody who's had my back through that."
It is undecided, organizationally, whether Norris will be in the bullpen or rotation next season. Norris knows what he will be fighting for, though.
"Next year I'm looking forward to going 200 innings," he said. "Some people don't think I can, but I plan on it. I want to prove those people wrong. That's my driving point."