Tigers complete sweep at Metrodome
Close to 4 1/2 back of Indians, keep pressure on Yankees
MINNEAPOLIS -- For several years, the Tigers' hopes for reaching the postseason ended here at the Metrodome. After the Tigers' second series sweep here in three months, their playoff chase looks more like it has a chance to be a close pursuit.
"We're Tin Cup right now," Todd Jones said after his 300th career save finished off Sunday's 6-4 win that gained the Tigers a game in the AL Central standings. "We've got a 260-yard approach shot to win the Open, and we've got to stick it on the green."
The win, combined with an Indians loss to the Royals, drew the Tigers within 4 1/2 games of the AL Central lead heading into Monday's series opener in Cleveland. They remained 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the AL Wild Card.
The sense of urgency made the Tigers' success in Minnesota an afterthought. Not only have the Tigers won six in a row at the Metrodome, they won eight of their nine games here. It's not only the most wins they've ever had here in a season, it's their second-most wins at any division foe since the divisional format began in 1969. Only the Tigers' 9-0 run through Kansas City last year proved more dominant.
"We played three good games and we beat a real good team," manager Jim Leyland said. "Particularly up here, it's awful tough. If somebody would've told me we'd win six in a row at the Metrodome, I would've told them they were crazy."
Instead, the craziness was in the series finale. Once again, the Tigers built an early lead for a young pitcher -- this time, it was Jair Jurrjens -- and pitched well enough to hold off a Twins comeback late. But it was close.
Jurrjens (3-1) became part of the Tigers' stretch-run rotation after his last outing, filling a void created by Jeremy Bonderman's injured elbow. Rather than give him a third start against the Indians, Leyland scheduled him against the Twins, who had yet to see him. For five-plus innings, they didn't see him well at all.
Not only did rookie Brian Buscher's second-inning walk comprise the only baserunner against Jurrjens through 5 1/3 innings, nobody came close enough to a hit to require an outstanding play in the field. He struck out six Twins, induced nine fly outs and ended the third with an easy bouncer to first baseman Carlos Guillen.
It wasn't Justin Verlander-type dominance, but it was enough that the 21-year-old was aware of what he had going.
"I was trying not to [think about it]," Jurrjens said. "I turned around to look at the scoreboard and saw it, and that's when I began to think about it."
The only factor working against Jurrjens was his pitch count. He wasn't tired, but after three-ball counts to five of the first 11 batters he faced, he likely wasn't going to finish the game regardless. He was effective, but he was uncharacteristic for a pitcher who has been efficient in his starts by throwing first-pitch strikes.
Once Nick Punto battled him for nine pitches before going the other way with a tailing fastball for a double to left, the question of completing a no-hit bid became a moot point.
"I didn't want the top of the lineup coming up with people on base," he said. "I'm trying to see if he hits it to somebody, but he got a double. When you fall behind and you need to throw strikes, that happens."
Once Jason Tyner took a 95-mph fastball and blistered it over right fielder Magglio Ordonez's head for an RBI triple, it marked the end of Jurrjens' outing.
"We were just watching him," Leyland said, "and it was really getting about that time. His legs were getting a little [tired]."
Like Yorman Bazardo a day earlier, Jurrjens had the lead before he even took the mound. Curtis Granderson led off the game by drilling a Scott Baker pitch off the football press box in right-center field, an estimated 432-foot shot. Back-to-back singles from Timo Perez and Ramon Santiago and a throwing error from Scott Baker fueled a two-run second inning before Gary Sheffield doubled and scored in the third.
Baker (8-8) retired 11 of his final 12 batters to salvage a seven-inning performance and allow Minnesota to creep back into the game, but an eighth-inning rally off of Pat Neshek restored Detroit's four-run lead. Guillen doubled in Sheffield and scored on an Ivan Rodriguez sacrifice fly.
By game's end, those insurance tallies loomed large. Four eighth-inning walks combined from Tim Byrdak, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya scored Tyner and put the potential tying run on base for Joe Mauer.
"We didn't want to exactly use the bullpen the way we did today," Leyland said. "but we had to."
Zumaya recovered to strike out Mauer on three fastballs, but the the Twins' rally set up a save opportunity for Jones. He became the 21st member of the 300-save club, but had to earn it.
Luis Rodriguez's leadoff triple and Punto's RBI single brought the tying run to the plate. After two outs, Torii Hunter slapped a ground ball that sent Santiago deep enough into the hole at short that he didn't have a play on. A four-pitch walk to Justin Morneau loaded the bases for Michael Cuddyer.
Jones recovered and got a routine game-ending grounder, his milestone save and the sweep. And the Tigers got their 260-foot golf shot.
"Seven iron," Brandon Inge said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.