The Detroit Tigers have tasted first place a few times this season but their time there was very short.
In sole possession of the top spot in the AL Central for the first time in two months, the Tigers will try to make this stay last a little longer beginning Thursday when they seek a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals .
Expected to be the class of a mediocre division this year, Detroit (83-72) struggled to fulfill those expectations for much of this season. A strong finish, though, will be more than enough to erase any disappointment, and 10 wins in 15 games have put the Tigers back alone atop the Central - one game ahead of Chicago - for the first time since July 24.
A hard slide by Andy Dirks broke up a potential inning-ending double play in the eighth inning and helped the Tigers to a 5-4 win Wednesday night. Austin Jackson and Alex Avila homered for Detroit, which has won seven of eight at home against Kansas City (70-85)."I was just trying to break up the double play and try to get a piece of him any way I could to help us score that run," Dirks said. "That's just kind of the way you play baseball."
Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera was robbed of his 43rd homer and went hitless for the second straight game. He still tops the AL in batting average (.327) and RBIs (133), while trailing Texas' Josh Hamilton by one for the home run lead.
Cabrera is 3 for 8 with a homer off scheduled starter Luis Mendoza (8-9, 4.44 ERA), while Jackson is 5 for 7 with a pair of doubles.
This is the final regular-season home game for the Tigers, winners of six of nine on their 10-game homestand and 32 of the last 43 at Comerica Park.
Kansas City, which hosts Detroit for the final three games of the season, has allowed 28 runs during a four-game skid after giving up nine in a season high-tying four-game win streak."I love my team," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We've played three games here, and we're 0-3, but we're in these games and we're not far from the point where we are going to be consistently winning these games."
The Tigers look to complete the sweep with help from Doug Fister (10-9, 3.43), who's coming off perhaps the best performance of his career. The right-hander, one win shy of matching his personal best set last season, was superb in an 8-0 victory over Minnesota on Saturday, scattering seven hits while striking out seven in his first career shutout.
"I had some fine-tuning with the mechanics today, and I really focused on the little things," Fister told the team's official website.
That outing was in stark contrast to his previous start Sept. 17, when he was tagged for four runs and eight hits over four innings in a 5-4 loss to the White Sox.
Fister wasn't particularly sharp in his only start this season against the Royals, giving up four runs and eight hits over six innings of an 8-7 home victory July 7.
Mendoza looks to notch a third straight effective start for Kansas City. Since getting hit hard by the White Sox on Sept. 7, the right-hander has allowed three runs and 10 hits over 12 innings in his past two starts.
He pitched into the seventh Friday in his first outing since a bout with strep throat, limiting Cleveland to two runs in a 6-3 victory, his first since Aug. 17.
Mendoza is 1-1 with a 9.30 ERA in eight appearances - three starts - against the Tigers.
|Kansas City Royals|
|September 18, 2012||Luis Mendoza||Day-to-Day||Strep throat|
|September 14, 2012||Lorenzo Cain||Day-to-Day||Left game - Strained right hamstring|
|August 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Broken left thumb|
|August 17, 2012||Chris Getz||Day-to-Day||Left game - fractured left thumb|
|July 28, 2012||Mike Moustakas||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained right knee|
|July 05, 2012||Luke Hochevar||Day-to-Day||Sprained right ankle|
|September 18, 2012||Max Scherzer||Day-to-Day||Left game - right shoulder fatigue|
|September 16, 2012||Austin Jackson||Day-to-Day||Sore left ankle|
|September 11, 2012||Ryan Raburn||15-Day DL||Strained right quadriceps|
|August 23, 2012||Doug Fister||Day-to-Day||Tightness in right groin|
|August 23, 2012||Miguel Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right ankle soreness|
|August 01, 2012||Ryan Raburn||15-Day DL||Sprained right thumb|
DETROIT (AP) -- Doug Fister was breezing along after striking out nine straight batters and setting an American League record.
Detroit led by four runs in the eighth inning - but for the 2012 Tigers, nothing has come easy.
The Tigers nearly wasted Fister's dazzling streak, blowing a big lead late before beating Kansas City 5-4 on Thursday when Alex Avila drove home the winning run in the ninth with a bases-loaded grounder.
Detroit's lead in the AL Central grew to two games when the slumping Chicago White Sox lost to Tampa Bay 3-2.
"Getting a win is big," Avila said. "We have to be able to win tight games like this. It's the only way we're going to be able to get in the playoffs and go far in the playoffs."
Detroit finished 50-31 at home this season - and will now try to wrap up the division on the road. The Tigers play three games at Minnesota, followed by a season-ending three-game series at Kansas City.
Fister came within one strikeout of matching Tom Seaver 's major league record of 10 in a row. He struck out Salvador Perez to end the top of the fourth, starting a streak that didn't end until Perez grounded out to the shortstop on a two-strike pitch in the seventh.
"It's crazy, to go through a whole lineup and strike everybody out," Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "And I don't think he threw more than four pitches to any of the batters."
The AL record of eight consecutive strikeouts had been accomplished several times, most recently by Kansas City's Blake Stein on June 17, 2001.
After Perez grounded out for the third out of the seventh, first baseman Prince Fielder put his arm around Fister as they headed back to the dugout.
"I said, `Congratulations, man. You made history.' He was like, `What are you doing?"' Fielder said. "He was locked in so it was kind of like, `Get away from me.' I was like, `All right, they'll tell you."
At that point, Fister had retired 16 straight hitters and Detroit led 4-0 - but he was oblivious to the strikeout record.
"Honestly, I had no idea," Fister said. "(Fielder) was yelling at me to step off during the inning, and I kind of looked at him. Normally, he'll do that, to slow me down, if I'm getting too quick. ... I thought that was kind of what he was doing there. He just said, `Hey, step off.' I look at him, and he kept looking at me, and he said, `Aw, I'll tell you later."'
Fister's performance almost went for naught. The Royals scored three runs in the eighth, and Billy Butler tied it in the ninth with a solo homer off Joaquin Benoit (5-3).
Fielder led off the Detroit ninth with a chopper that went past the mound and charging shortstop Tony Abreu . The hefty slugger made it all the way to second for a double on a ball that only ended up a few feet beyond the infield.
Delmon Young was intentionally walked, and pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago bunted into a forceout at third, leaving runners at first and second. Kelvin Herrera replaced Tim Collins (5-4) on the mound and got Jhonny Peralta to hit what looked like a potential double play grounder to third, but Mike Moustakas misplayed it for his third error of the game - and Kansas City's fifth.
Avila hit a full-count pitch to first baseman Brayan Pena , who made a diving stop and touched the bag, but had no play at home.
"Pena still made a great play on that one," Fielder said. "Baseball is really hard because even if you're good, you have to be a little lucky, too."
Fister finished with 10 strikeouts in 7 2-3 innings. He allowed two earned runs and five hits.
Kansas City's Luis Mendoza allowed two earned runs in seven innings.
Francoeur hit an RBI double in the eighth, Johnny Giavotella added an RBI groundout, and Abreu, pinch-hitting, drove in a run with a single to make it 4-3.
Detroit took a 4-0 lead thanks in part to four Kansas City errors in the first two innings.
Moustakas was charged with two errors on one grounder by Quintin Berry - one for mishandling it and another for a bad throw. Fielder drove in a run later in the first with a single, advancing to second on an error by left fielder Alex Gordon .
Young hit a sacrifice fly, and Gordon threw Fielder out at home on a single by Andy Dirks to end the inning.
Berry's two-run triple in the second made it 4-0.
NOTES: Detroit closer Jose Valverde was sick and unavailable. ... Royals 1B Eric Hosmer left the game with a strained right shoulder. ... The Tigers play at Minnesota on Friday night. LHP Drew Smyly (4-3) will start because of an injury to Max Scherzer . Minnesota will counter with LHP Scott Diamond (12-8).