DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers were down after absorbing a difficult loss in the opener of their critical day-night doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins.
Their ace took over from there.
Justin Verlander kept the Tigers on top in the AL Central, pitching eight innings in a 6-5 victory Tuesday night that restored their two-game lead over the scrappy Twins.
“After the first game, this win was huge,” Verlander acknowledged.
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It wasn’t easy, but it never is against the pesky Twins.
“They showed whey they’re so good,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
Minnesota briefly pulled within one game of the Tigers when it won the doubleheader opener, 3-2, in 10 innings. Brandon Lyon (6-5) set up Orlando Cabrera’s go-ahead single with a pair of wild pitches.
If the Tigers can beat the Twins at home today and Thursday, they’ll win their first division title since 1987.
If Detroit doesn’t take the next two games of the series, the AL Central won’t be decided until the weekend — or early next week — with each team closing the regular season with a three-game set.
Minnesota has clinched the season series and would host the tiebreaker if one is necessary, likely on Tuesday because Brett Favre and the Vikings are playing Green Bay on Monday night at the Metrodome.
“This is playoff baseball — we just got started a little early this year,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The intensity of the day, with the crowd focused on every pitch, certainly had the feel of October baseball.
Verlander (18-9) struck out eight, giving him a baseball-best 264 this season, and allowed four runs and eight hits on a season-high 129 pitches. Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 36th save in 37 chances, overcoming shaky defense that allowed Minnesota to pull within a run.
Brian Duensing (5-2) gave up five runs over 42/3 innings in his ninth career start for the Twins, who had a chance to at least tie the game in the eighth and ninth.