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Minnesota staves off elimination

DETROIT — The AL Central showdown didn't decide much.

Scott Baker had a strong start and got plenty of run support, helping the Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 8-3 Thursday to avoid elimination from playoff contention.

"We just didn't want to see them celebrating," Twins outfielder Denard Span said.

The AL Central-leading Tigers had a chance to clinch their first division title since 1987 in the finale of the four-game series, but their bats were quieted and their pitchers got roughed up in a three-run third inning and a four-run eighth.

Detroit started the series with a two-game lead and ended it with the same tenuous cushion.

"We controlled our own destiny today and we had a chance to clinch it out, but you have to give them credit," Detroit catcher Gerald Laird said. "We're still two games up with three to play, and we're in the driver's seat. We just have to play good baseball like we have at home, take it to the White Sox and we'll be celebrating."

The tightest race in baseball won't be decided until this weekend — or early next week if a tiebreaker is necessary.

Minnesota has clinched the season series and would host an extra game if its needed, likely on Tuesday because the Vikings are playing on Monday night at the Metrodome.

If Detroit beats the Ozzie Guillen-led Chicago White Sox twice at home, it would win the division. If not, the Tigers would need some help from the Kansas City Royals, who end the season at Minnesota.

"We're going to the Dome for the last weekend, and we've still got a shot," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We've got to beat the Royals and, 'Come on, Ozzie!' I'm going to leave him a note."

Baker (15-9) gave up an unearned run and five hits over five innings.

Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay and Matt Guerrier combined to pitch 2 2/3 scoreless innings until Minnesota matched its season high with a fourth error, allowing Detroit to score a pair of two-out runs that made it 8-3.

Nate Robertson (2-3) gave up four runs — three earned — and nine hits in six-plus innings. Rookie Ryan Perry and Fu-Te Ni each struck out a Twin in the seventh to get out of a bases-loaded jam, but Casey Fien and Bobby Seay each gave up two runs, putting the game out of reach.

Tempers flared in the eighth.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland was ejected during a face-to-face argument with umpire Angel Hernandez in the top of the inning — following an inside pitch — then Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman and Laird were tossed in the home half.

Both benches and bullpens after Twins outfielder Delmon Young was hit by Bonderman, but the players contained their emotions enough to avoid pushing or punching.

"It absolutely turned into a bit of a strange game toward the end," Leyland said.

Minnesota had much more punch at the plate in a game it needed to win to keep hopes alive for rallying in the AL Central as it did in 2006, when the Twins surged and the Tigers slumped at the end of the season. Detroit earned a spot three years ago as the AL wild card and lost the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

The Twins went ahead 3-1 in the third on Joe Mauer's RBI single, Michael Cuddyer's run-scoring single and Jason Kubel's sacrifice fly. They broke the game open in the eighth when Orlando Cabrera hit a three-run double and Mauer followed with an RBI single to make it 8-1.

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