KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Detroit Tigers had a 220-bottle
champagne celebration Sunday and they hope to have even a bigger
one later this week.
The Tigers fought off their late-season slump and clinched their
first playoff berth since 1987, scoring nine runs in the second
inning Sunday and coasting to an 11-4 win over the Kansas City
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"I've been waiting for this," said Brandon Inge, who was given
a champagne shampoo by teammates. "You don't think about this in
spring training, and then something like this happens."Enjoying a turnaround season under new manager Jim Leyland,
Detroit assured itself of no-worse than the AL wild-card berth and
headed into the final week of the season with a 1½-game lead in the
AL Central. The Tigers, who regained the best record in the major
leagues at 94-62, went ahead early for the second straight day,
following up on Saturday's 10-run first."We want to send a message that we're not happy just going to
the playoffs," Tigers closer Todd Jones said. "We are trying to
win our division."Craig Monroe hit a three-run homer that gave Justin Verlander
(17-9) an 8-0 lead and chased starter Runelvys Hernandez (6-10).
Inge then homered on Todd Wellemeyer's first pitch.
The Tigers clinched their first playoff berth since 1987 with an 11-4 win over the Royals. Three MLB franchises have a longer current postseason drought than Detroit: the Expos/Nationals (who last played a postseason game in 1981), Brewers (1982) and Royals (1985).• For more Elias Says, Click here
Detroit's last trip to the postseason was 19 years ago, when the
Tigers won the AL East and lost to Minnesota 4-1 in the AL
championship series."It is really overwhelming," said Tigers owner Michael Ilitch,
who bought the team in 1992. "It is probably one of the highlights
of my life. In the final outs, we were all holding our breath.
After the final out, I did a lot of hugging. We had a bump in the
road in late August, but that can be expected over a 162-game
season. I never felt like it is not going to happen, but was
concerned."The Tigers set an American League record for losses in 2003,
going 43-119, then improved to 72-90 in 2004. But Detroit went
71-91 last season, losing 29 of its last 39 games en route to its
12th straight sub-.500 finish. General manager Dave Dombrowski
replaced manager Alan Trammell with Leyland, who teamed with him to
lead the 1997 Florida Marlins to a World Series title."Those guys out there in the clubhouse made me pretty smart,"
Leyland said. "I don't take the credit. I think I've been a
beneficiary of catching them at the right time. They've done it.
They are good players. A lot of guys could have managed this team.
I'm so happy for these guys. They are winners now, and forever will
be winners.Dombrowski gave a great deal of the credit to Leyland."He steered the ship," Dombrowski said. "He's just a great
manager. He's just what we needed."Leyland had not managed since 1999 with the Colorado Rockies. In
addition during the offseason, the Tigers added free-agent pitcher
Kenny Rogers, who anchored a staff that included rookies Verlander,
Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner. Detroit's offense already had been
rebuilt somewhat with the signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez after
the 2003 season and Magglio Ordonez after the 2004 season. The
Tigers also acquired shortstop Carlos Guillen from Seattle in
January 2004.Detroit spurted at the start of this season, taking over sole
possession of the division lead on May 21 and staying in first
place ever since. The Tigers opened a season-high 10-game margin on
Aug. 7, when they were a major league-best 76-36, but then went
15-26 before arriving at Kansas City for the weekend series with
their division lead down to a half-game over second-place MinnesotaThe Tigers swept the Royals, extending Kansas City's losing
streak to six. The Royals must win five of their last seven games
to avoid their third straight 100-loss season and fourth in five
years.Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly and Ordonez's two-run, two-out
single put the Tigers ahead 3-0, and Carlos Guillen and Matt Stairs
followed with RBI singles,Hernandez allowed eight runs, seven hits and two walks in
two-thirds of an inning, but just one of the runs was earning
because of a throwing error by third baseman Jeff Keppinger on Omar
Infante's sacrifice.Verlander, 4 years old when the Tigers last went to the
playoffs, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings."The Tigers are solid all the way through," Royals interim
manager Billy Doran said. "They don't have any holes. People who
play them in the playoffs are going to have their hands full."David DeJesus hit a two-run double in the Kansas City third.
Rodriguez doubled in a run in the fifth and Stairs homered in the
sixth off Ryan Braun.
The Tigers lead the majors with 49 road wins. ... The
Royals are 0-3 since manager Buddy Bell left the club to have
throat surgery on Friday. He will not return this season. ... The
Royals went 34-47 at home, matching 2005.