Tigers clinch title in Kauffman

10/02/2012 6:50 AM

10/02/2012 6:50 AM

So much for drama. Sure, it was almost certain to happen at some point this week – the Detroit Tigers celebrating a division title at Kauffman Stadium. They came into this season-ending, three-game series with a three-game lead over second-place Chicago. It happened Monday with a huge assist from the Royals in a 6-3 victory.

So much for drama.

Sure, it was almost certain to happen at some point this week – the Detroit Tigers celebrating a division title at Kauffman Stadium. They came into this season-ending, three-game series with a three-game lead over second-place Chicago.

It happened Monday with a huge assist from the Royals in a 6-3 victory.

David Lough’s muff on a two-out fly to center in the sixth inning lead to four unearned runs. It turned a 2-0 lead into a 6-0 cushion, and the Tigers rolled from there. Chicago’s 11-0 victory at Cleveland became a footnote.

The end came when Detroit closer José Valverde retired Alcides Escobar on a grounder to short. That ignited a fairly tame on-field celebration that carried into the clubhouse.

This is the second time in seven years the Tigers, who set an American League record with 119 losses in 2003, popped post-season-clinching champagne at Kauffman Stadium.

They should have sent a few bottles across the hall. The Royals played a major role in Detroit’s title run by going 12-6 this season against the White Sox; they won just four of 16 games (with two remaining) against the Tigers.

While Lough’s error was decisive, Detroit amassed 14 hits, including four by Miguel Cabrera who, for the first time, has the undisputed lead in all three Triple Crown categories: 44 homers, 137 RBIs and a .329 average.

That should further fuel the ongoing debate regarding whether Cabrera or Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout deserves to be Most Valuable Player Award. Results of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s balloting won’t be known until November.

This much is known: Cabrera’s homer ignited the five-run sixth inning against Royals starter Bruce Chen, who finishes 11-14 after giving up six runs in 5 2/3 innings. Only two runs were earned.

The Tigers knew early on they likely needed a victory to clinch the division crown. Second-place Chicago, playing an hour earlier in Cleveland, jumped to a big lead.

Detroit starter Rick Porcello, 10-12, worked five scoreless innings but, even with a 6-0 lead, departed after surrendering Alex Gordon’s leadoff homer in the sixth inning.

Al Albuquerque, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Valverde closed out the victory. Valverde got his 35th save in 40 chances.

The Royals had chances to mount comebacks in the sixth and eighth innings, but Jeff Francoeur misfired twice in key situations.

First, he grounded into a run-scoring double play with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth against Albuquerque. He then tried to stretch an RBI single into a double with two outs in the eighth against Benoit after Salvy Perez already reached.

Center fielder Austin Jackson threw out Francoeur at second.

The Royals went quietly in the ninth against Valverde, which left them with eight losses in their last nine games. At 71-89, they still need one more victory to surpass last year’s total.

The game was scoreless until one out in the Detroit fifth, when Jhonny Peralta tomahawked a first-pitch fastball from Chen, an 86-mph fastball, into the Royals’ bullpen beyond the left-field wall for a home run and a 1-0 lead.

It was still 1-0 in the Detroit sixth when Cabrera sent a one-out dart into the right-field bullpen. Fielder followed with a liner to center that got past Lough for a double that maybe – and maybe not – should have been caught.

There were no maybes on Peralta’s two-out drive that had Lough twisting in deep center before muffing a catch for a two-base error that scored Fielder for a 3-0 lead.

That’s when the game got away.

Dirks lined a single into right that Francoeur short-hopped, but Peralta chose to hold at third. Dirks broke for second on the throw home and made it. Barely. Escobar hopped in frustration after believing he applied the tag in time.

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