Detroit - Those pesky Minnesota Twins forced the Detroit Tigers to keep their champagne on ice.
Scott Baker got plenty of run support and pitched Minnesota to a testy 8-3 victory on Thursday, preventing the Tigers from clinching their first division title in 22 years.
Minnesota avoided elimination from the playoff race and cut the first-place Tigers’ lead to two games with three to play.
“We just didn’t want to see them celebrating,” Twins outfielder Denard Span said.
The teams wound up splitting their crucial four-game series. The Tigers had a chance to wrap up their first division crown since 1987 in the finale, but their bats were quieted and their pitchers got roughed up in a three-run third inning and a four-run eighth.
Tempers flared late in the game, too.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland was ejected during a face-to-face argument with umpire Angel Hernandez in the eighth inning after a pitch by Minnesota’s Jose Mijares went behind Adam Everett.
Both benches and bullpens emptied in the ninth after Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman plunked Delmon Young in the leg. An angry Young slammed his helmet to the ground and shouted toward Detroit’s dugout, but there was no pushing or punching.
Bonderman and Tigers catcher Gerald Laird also got tossed.
The Twins and Tigers are fighting for baseball’s final playoff spot. The race 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 needed, likely on Tuesday because the NFL Vikings play Monday night at the Metrodome against Green Bay.
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 last-place Kansas City Royals, who end the season at Minnesota.
Detroit, which has owned at least a share of the AL Central lead since May 10, will make history if the Twins finish in first. No major league team has remained in first place from May 10 – or earlier – until losing the division title in the last week of a season.
“We’re going to the dome for the last weekend and we’ve still got a shot,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.