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DET@OAK: Willingham drills a homer to deep center

OAKLAND -- The folks at the Oakland Coliseum tried with all their might to help the A's distract the Tigers from playing their way to a division-clinching victory on Friday night.

They hosted a pregame wedding ceremony behind home plate, set up a treadmill near the left-field seats for a man attempting to complete a marathon by game's end -- he came up short at 20.1 miles -- and employed a Star Wars-themed affair.

As if that wasn't enough, there was a power outage in the fourth inning that forced a 16-minute delay.

But none of the shenanigans could prevent the inevitable: a 3-1 Detroit victory, forcing a celebration on Oakland's home turf and marking the second straight year such an event has taken stage at the Coliseum, as the Rangers did it last year when they won the American League West.

The latter stung more for obvious reasons, but Friday's scene wasn't one the A's particularly wanted to see, either.

Oakland tried to avoid it for a second straight night, threatening in the ninth when Coco Crisp led off with a double, but Tigers closer Jose Valverde notched the next three outs to start the party.

"It's not something you want to do," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We would have liked to have won that game in the ninth inning. Certainly if you can take care of that and have them win in a different fashion, whether it's them going to the clubhouse to celebrate after we beat them and somebody else losing, that's how you like to do it."

As has been the case several times this season, Josh Willingham represented the lone offensive force for the A's, who watched the designated hitter homer in the second inning against righty Doug Fister.

The blast left Willingham just three home runs and eight RBIs shy of reaching the 30/100 mark -- numbers that will only boost interest from other teams this offseason who enter play on the pending free agent. The A's are likely to offer the Willingham a contract -- and would do well by keeping him around -- but the veteran has mentioned in the past he's not afraid to explore the open market.

Fellow free agent-to-be David DeJesus, who has struggled for the better part of the 2011 campaign, collected the only other two hits that Fister allowed through eight strong innings.

Fister calmed after the solo shot, allowing a base hit to DeJesus before retiring 17 consecutive batters. He walked none and fanned five en route to carrying his club to its first division title since 1987 -- when it was in the AL East -- and first time since it joined the AL Central in 1998.

"They're deep," Melvin said of the Tigers. "They have a lot of power, late-inning bullpen guys that are very good, and good starting pitching across the board."

A's righty Trevor Cahill, meanwhile, gave up just one run despite dealing with 10 baserunners through the first five innings to maintain a 1-1 deadlock. But he offered up an RBI triple to Wilson Betemit in the sixth and a solo shot to Don Kelly in the seventh to allow Detroit a permanent lead.

"I put myself in tough situations in a couple innings and was able to get out of them, make pitches when I had to," said Cahill, who dropped to 3-7 with a 6.58 ERA since the break. "That's one positive thing I guess you can take out of it."

The Tigers' victory overshadowed a handful of notable plays by the A's defense, including a bullet from Hideki Matsui in left field after he caught Ramon Santiago's fly ball that made its way to catcher Landon Powell in time to snag Betemit at the plate for an inning-ending double play in the sixth.

"Trevor, for the most part, when he needed to make a big pitch he did," Melvin said. "Even though there was some traffic on the bases, it's good to see us play better defensively. If we didn't play that well defensively, that game would have gotten out of hand in a hurry."

Cahill was charged with all three runs on nine hits and four walks while striking out four in 6 2/3 innings. The righty wasn't so much concerned with Detroit's intentions, naturally, as he was with his own club's.

"Obviously, we knew what they were trying to do going out there today, but we're just trying to win a game," he said. "Their winning a division didn't affect us at all, so that's just us trying to win a game and get some momentum for next year."

With the right pieces around him, Cahill -- signed through 2015 -- could potentially experience what Fister did Friday.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," the Detroit pitcher said. "A great group of guys to be around, a great group of guys to fight tooth and nail with. This is what we're living for, this is what we're playing for. Every drop of sweat, every drop of blood, tear, whatever, is what it's all about right now."

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