Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins 10-6-09

October 6, 2009

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Detroit Tigers (86-76) at Minnesota Twins (86-76), 5:07 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Detroit – Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04) Minnesota – Scott Baker (15-9, 4.36)

(Sports Network) – For the third straight year the regular season will be extended by one game, as the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins play a one- game playoff at the Metrodome to decide the American League Central.

Minnesota, which earned the right to host the contest by virtue of winning the season series with the Tigers, becomes the first team to compete in back-to- back tiebreakers, but hopes for a better outcome this time around, as it came up short in Game 163 a year ago, falling 1-0 to the Chicago White Sox in a playoff at U.S. Cellular Field.

This will be the AL’s fifth tiebreaker contest and the third straight overall in baseball after Colorado and San Diego started the run in 2007 with a one- game playoff to decide the NL Wild Card.

Of course, the winner of tonight’s contest will play the AL East champion New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on either Wednesday or Thursday.

Detroit, which is trying for its first division crown since winning the AL East in 1987, held a seven-game lead over Minnesota on September 6, but has since gone 11-15. It is now in danger of becoming the first team to be in first place on May 10 and stay atop a division until losing the title in the last week.

The Tigers, though, managed to salvage the finale of their three-game series with the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, as Justin Verlander’s solid outing and Ryan Rayburn’s two home runs and three RBI lifted Detroit to a must-win 5-3 decision.

The Tigers had held a magic number of two after beating the Twins on Wednesday, but dropped the next three games before winning Sunday’s finale at Comerica Park.

Magglio Ordonez went 4-for-4 with a solo homer for the Tigers, who could become the first team in major league history to lead a division or league by three games with four games to play and not win.

Verlander (19-9) gave up three runs on six hits and a pair of walks in 7 2/3 innings. The right-hander set a career-high in wins — tying the MLB lead this season — and with five strikeouts finished with 269 for the year, also a league-high.

Tonight the Tigers turn to 20-year-old right-hander Rick Porcello, who has posted a 14-9 record in his rookie campaign to go along with a 4.04 earned run average. Already a leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year, Porcello can probably secure it with a big effort tonight.

“I’m sure he’s pitched in a tough environment,” manager Jim Leyland said, “but I doubt that 50 scouts down the right-field line freezing their tails off in New Jersey somewhere is going to be like this.”

Porcello has been great for the Tigers lately, surrendering three runs or less in six of his last seven starts. He did not get a decision last Tuesday against the Twins, but allowed just a run and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings of his team’s 3-2 loss.

“In my opinion, he’s going to have the same amount of pressure on this start that he did in the last one, ” said Verlander. “Not knowing what was to come, he had a ton of pressure on him his last start and was able to handle it very well. Like I’ve said all year, he’s so mature for his age, he’s unbelievable. He’s confident in himself. He’ll be able to draw off that, go in and do a good job for us.”

The former first round pick is just 1-2 in four starts versus the Twins this season, while pitching to a 3.09 ERA in those contests.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has been one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch, winning four straight, 10 of 13 and 16 of its past 20 games to pull even with the Tigers.

The Twins, who are shooting for their first division title since 2006, forced the one-game playoff on Sunday, as Jason Kubel hit two three-run home runs, while Delmon Young clubbed a pair of solo shots in a 13-4 win over the Kansas City Royals..

“We have to get through Detroit to get to New York,” said Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer, who homered in Sunday’s win. “Hopefully we’ll worry about that (facing the Yankees) on the flight to the Bronx.”

Carl Pavano (14-12) got the win as he threw 5 2/3 innings and gave up four runs on eight hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.

Getting the call for the Twins tonight will be righty Scott Baker, who is 15-9 this year with a 4.36 ERA. Baker won his second straight start on Thursday in Detroit, as he held the Tigers to just one unearned run and five hits in five innings.

Baker has faced the Tigers 16 times and is 5-4 against them with a 4.33 ERA.

Adding to the intrigue tonight is the fact that this could be the final baseball game ever played at the Metrodome, which the Twins will leave next year for the brand new open-air Target Field.

“We’re going to have a packed house,” Cuddyer added. “Maybe we’ll have a whiteout. Chicago last year had a blackout, maybe we’ll have a whiteout in the Dome.”

The last time a road team won a play-in game to earn a postseason berth was back in 1999, when the New York Mets claimed a 5-0 shutout over the Reds in Cincinnati and advanced as the National League Wild Card team.

“There’s no way to go around the fact that we’re playing in the Dome and not in Detroit,” said Baker. “I think we’ve seen in the past how well we play in front of our fans and how much it can affect the outcome of the game. We’re all very excited to be here at the Dome.”

Minnesota was 11-7 against the Tigers this season, but was 7-2 in the nine games contested at the Metrodome.

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