- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

DETROIT | The Detroit Tigers were down after absorbing a difficult loss in the opener of their critical day-night doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins.

Their ace took over from there.

Justin Verlander kept the Tigers on top in the AL Central, pitching eight innings in a 6-5 victory Tuesday night that restored their two-game lead over the scrappy Twins.

“After the first game, this win was huge,” Verlander said.

Indeed.

It wasn’t easy, but it never is against the pesky Twins.

“They showed why they’re so good,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

Minnesota briefly pulled within one game of the Tigers when it won the opener 3-2 in 10 innings. Brandon Lyon (6-5) set up Orlando Cabrera’s go-ahead single with a pair of wild pitches.

If the Tigers can beat the Twins at home Wednesday and Thursday, they’ll win their first division title since 1987.

If Detroit doesn’t take the next two games of the series, the AL Central won’t be decided until the weekend — or early next week — with each team closing the regular season with a three-game set.

Minnesota has clinched the season series and would host the tiebreaker if one is necessary, likely Tuesday because Brett Favre and the Vikings are playing Green Bay on Monday night at the Metrodome.

“This is playoff baseball — we just got started a little early this year,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said between games.

The intensity of the day, with the crowd focused on every pitch, certainly had the feel of October baseball.

Verlander (18-9) struck out eight, giving him a major league-best 264 this season, and allowed four runs and eight hits on a season-high 129 pitches. Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 36th save in 37 chances, overcoming shaky defense that allowed Minnesota to pull within a run.

Brian Duensing (5-2) gave up five runs over 4 2/3 innings in his ninth career start for the Twins, who had a chance at least to tie the game in the eighth and ninth.

Delmon Young started the Minnesota ninth with an infield single that was misplayed by second baseman Placido Polanco. Rodney retired the next two batters, and Nick Punto followed with a fly ball to center that Curtis Granderson misjudged, allowing it to go over his head and helping the Twins pull within a run.

“You’re looking for a break, and we got one there,” Gardenhire said.

Rodney then got Denard Span to hit a game-ending fly to left.

So Detroit finished the day in the same position it was at the start of the doubleheader, delighting the crowd of 30,240.

“I thought both teams put on a good show for the fans for this time of year in a pennant race,” Leyland said.

Gardenhire agreed.

“If you didn’t enjoy today with these two games, you aren’t much of a baseball fan,” Gardenhire said.

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