Tigers solve Pavano, have title in sight
Detroit can clinch division with win vs. Twins on Thursday
DETROIT -- Wednesday was more than just a move to the verge of an American League Central title for the Tigers. Their 7-2 win over the Twins might've been a release for the frustrations of an entire season.
They finally took them out on Carl Pavano. As a result, they have a chance to wrap up their first division crown in 22 years Thursday. A win in their series finale with Minnesota, a 1:05 p.m. ET start on MLB Network and MLB.TV, would take care of it. If not, any combination of two Tigers wins this weekend against the White Sox or Twins losses to the Royals would seal the AL Central crown for Detroit, which hasn't won a division since taking the AL East on the final weekend of the 1987 season.
What looked at one point like a potential disaster for Tigers starter Eddie Bonine soon turned into a drubbing of Pavano, the man the Tigers could never seem to beat. They could hit him, but they couldn't drive in runs against him, a problem that has plagued Detroit against all sorts of pitching this year and kept it struggling to create space atop the division.
He'd beaten the Tigers four times in five starts for two different teams and was trying to become just the third starting pitcher since 1954 to beat Detroit five times in the same season. By the time Magglio Ordonez's bases-clearing, fifth-inning double knocked Pavano from the game as the crowd of 34,775 at Comerica Park roared, the Tigers had saddled him with seven earned runs, the same total he gave up to the Tigers in their other five starts combined.
"We were due," manager Jim Leyland said. "Carl's been tough against us. We finally got him. It took us long enough."
It took almost an entire season.
"It's just amazing what a little end-of-the-season concentration will do for you," said Brandon Inge, whose two-run double set off a four-run second inning.
That wasn't the only amazement.
After Bonine got into trouble in the opening inning, it was amazing that he could pull an escape with just two runs allowed. Consecutive singles from Orlando Cabrera, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel -- the latter two on two-strike pitches -- drove in the first run before a four-pitch walk to Michael Cuddyer loaded the bases.
What would've been a Delmon Young sacrifice fly instead became an RBI single when Curtis Granderson turned wrong and couldn't run down the ball in deep center field.
By the time Jose Morales ran a 1-2 count full with the bases still loaded, Fu-Te Ni was already warming up. Bonine, who said he tried to be too perfect, had to trust his stuff. So the man best known for his knuckleball, even though he only throws a handful or two per game, had to rear back and fire a fastball.
"I'm not going to give in, but it's got to be a strike," he said. "I can't afford to walk in a run -- just a fastball that obviously had a big part of the plate. ... I dug myself that hole. It's one of those deals where you have to continue to trust it and hope they hit it at somebody or you get them to miss it."
Morales hit it well, but right at second baseman Placido Polanco, who knocked down the ball and picked it up in time to start an inning-ending double play.
Bonine (1-1), a low-key personality who didn't join the rotation until two weeks ago, gave a big fist pump. The Twins shook their heads after being unable to capitalize.
"It looked like we were going to do some serious damage there," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "And the freaky fly ball to center field and then we hit into a rocket double play, what are you going to do there?"
Considering Pavano's track record against the Tigers, one might've wondered if two runs would be enough. He retired the side in order in the opening inning and sent Bonine back onto the mound quickly. But while Bonine settled down, Pavano found trouble when back-to-back singles from Miguel Cabrera and Ordonez and a walk to Carlos Guillen -- 0-for-13 lifetime off Pavano entering the night -- loaded the bases with nobody out in the second.
Inge, 4-for-12 off Pavano at that point, didn't wait for Pavano to get ahead. He saw a first-pitch slider and lined it into the gap in left-center field for a two-run double. Two batters later, Ramon Santiago singled in two more.
The aura of invincibility that Pavano owned in Detroit was gone.
"To be honest with you, I think that was kind of big, just because of the track record we had this year," said Inge, whose 83rd RBI matched his career high. "Pavano had won four times against us, going for five. If you give him confidence there, each team could've said, 'Well, here we go again.' He could've said, 'I'm going to own him again.'"
Instead, after Bonine and Detroit's bullpen held Minnesota scoreless the rest of the way, Pavano (13-12) had a short night and long laments.
"I needed to step up and I didn't do the job," Pavano said. "Not only did I let myself down, I let my team down. They needed me today to go out there and put in an effort for a win, and I fell short."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.