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10/04/09 6:15 PM EST

Tigers survive Sox to set up tiebreaker

Granderson seals 'W,' forcing Tuesday game vs. Twins

DETROIT -- The Tigers headed into Sunday not just needing a win, but needing a spark. Justin Verlander provided the spark. Curtis Granderson might well have saved the win, and maybe the season.

Considering Granderson's leaping catch at the fence in Cleveland helped preserve a Verlander win as part of the run that propelled the Tigers to first place in May, it was fitting that his charge into shallow center field and diving catch helped preserve the win that kept Detroit tied atop the American League Central.

For that matter, considering how the season has gone, it's almost fitting that the Tigers' season rides on one play such as that, just enough to hold on for a 5-3 win over the White Sox on Sunday at Comerica Park. They make things dramatic, sometimes maddeningly so. But unlike a lot of teams, they're still playing.

"We had our backs totally up against the wall," manager Jim Leyland said, "and we won. We still have a heck of a chance, obviously, to win this division."

After three straight losses sent the Tigers from the verge of a division title to a tie atop the American League Central, Sunday's win set up a one-game tiebreaker with the Twins on Tuesday afternoon at the Metrodome. The winner will advance to New York for the AL Division Series against the top-seeded Yankees.

"We expected to go," Gerald Laird said. "We hold serve. We did our job. And now we have to go to a tough place to play."

The Tigers expect to win every time Verlander (19-9) takes the mound, the way he can command a game, and he lived up to their hopes for seven scoreless innings. Detroit's unquestioned ace faced one batter over the minimum through seven, erasing two of his three baserunners on the bases, and retired 13 of 14 batters he faced from the fourth inning into the eighth.

Verlander moved into a four-way tie for the Major League lead in wins. While he fell short of a 20-win season, he became the first Tiger to win 19 since Bill Gullickson won a league-best 20 in 1991. Verlander also finished with 269 strikeouts, most in the Major Leagues.

While some might've feared that Verlander's anxiety would give him a struggle to settle down early, he toned down his game and didn't try to overthrow. Instead, it was White Sox starter John Danks who showed some nerves.

After Danks (13-11) battled through a 32-pitch inning that included a bases-loaded walk to Carlos Guillen that put Detroit ahead, Verlander retired the White Sox in order in the second, providing what he calls the shutdown inning.

Winner take all
The results of the seven previous one-game MLB tiebreakers.
To determine
Sept. 30, 2008AL CentralWhite Sox 1, Twins 0
Oct. 1, 2007NL Wild CardRockies 9, Padres 8, 13 innings
Oct. 4, 1999NL Wild CardMets 5, Reds 0
Sept. 28, 1998NL Wild CardCubs 5, Giants 3
Oct. 2, 1995AL WestMariners 9, Angels 1
Oct. 6, 1980NL WestAstros 7, Dodgers 1
Oct. 2, 1978AL EastYankees 5, Red Sox 4

"I thought my fastball was really good early," Verlander said. "It wasn't so good in the eighth, but other than that, I felt great."

Once Ryan Raburn's two-run homer in the second, the first of his two home runs, stretched the Tigers' lead to 3-0, Verlander needed four pitches for two outs before Laird erased his two-out walk to Brent Lillibridge by throwing Lillibridge out at second.

"I tip my hat to him," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said of Verlander. "This kid went out there and did what everybody involved with the Tigers expected."

Much like his previous outing Tuesday against the Twins, Verlander's performance lifted the Tigers, who built him a five-run lead. Once again, he faced his big test in the eighth. This time, he didn't get a chance to stop it, but Granderson did.

Four straight one-out hits from the bottom four hitters of the White Sox order plated three runs and brought the tying run to the plate. Verlander recovered to get a Scott Podsednik popout for the second out, but a four-pitch walk to mid-game replacement Jayson Nix brought Leyland out of the dugout.

Unlike Tuesday's quick visit, this was the second mound meeting of the inning, and Verlander was out. In came Fernando Rodney for just his second four-out save attempt of the year, starting with slugger Carlos Quentin.

Tigers outfielders played Quentin deep, respecting his power. Three pitches later, Granderson had to make the unlikely charge in.

"He's probably one of the strongest guys in baseball, so we definitely had to play a lot deeper than expected," Granderson said.

Granderson has not had the best of fortunes tracking balls at Comerica Park this week, from a couple of Minnesota drives that carried on him with the wind to a line drive he struggled to track Thursday, part of the day-game challenges he faces here.

The weather actually helped him out Sunday. With an overcast sky rather than a sunny day, Granderson tracked the ball quickly off Quentin's bat. And the wind, blowing right to left, held up the ball a little bit longer.

"If someone else is hitting, you're not as deep," Granderson said. "Big guy, big swing, gets jammed, ball ends up hanging up a little longer."

Just long enough that Granderson could stretch out and get his glove under it.

"I don't know what's going to happen [with that ball]," said Rodney, who finished the ninth for his 37th save. "He made a nice catch."

Thanks to that, for at least a couple more days, the Tigers are making a run.

"The fact of the matter is, here are we," Leyland said. "And the fact of the matter is, I'm proud of them."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.