Tigers win in 5, but eliminated from posteason

DETROIT (AP) -- A dreary, drizzle-filled sky provided a fitting backdrop for the Detroit Tigers on the night they were eliminated from the playoff race.

Mike Hessman hit a home run and an RBI single to lead Detroit to a rain-shortened 9-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night, a five plus-inning win that came just too late.

"It was kind of a weird ending," Tigers first baseman Sean Casey said.

The defending American League champions needed help from Tampa Bay to maintain their remote chances of earning a postseason bid. But the New York Yankees beat the Devil Rays 12-4 to guarantee Detroit would be relegated to watching the playoffs.

"We watched it in the beginning, but it was a blowout early," Casey said.

The New York-Tampa Bay game ended just as crew chief Bruce Froemming came onto the field at Comerica Park to declare the game was over.

Even before it was official, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was resigned to the fact that his ballclub had slim-to-none odds of getting a chance to defend the AL pennant.

But Leyland was proud of the way the Tigers (87-72) overcame a slew of injuries that started hitting them in spring training and kept providing setbacks the rest of the year.

"We had a pretty good year, 15 over with three games left is not bad," Leyland said. "We went through a lot more than we did last year. But that's all part of the game, competition and professional sports."

The Twins led 4-3 in the top of the fourth when rain delayed the game for 1 hour, 18 minutes.

Detroit's shot at winning its home finale improved when the game resumed and Minnesota ace Johan Santana did not return to the mound.

"We weren't going to take any chances once it got to be 30 or 40 minutes," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We aren't going to risk him getting hurt."

That ended his streak of pitching at least five innings in 123 straight starts dating to 2004.

"It had to end sooner or later, but this isn't the way you would want," Santana said. "You just can't control the weather."

In the last 50 years, just Curt Schilling (147) and David Cone (145) had longer streaks.

Santana gave up three runs -- two earned -- two hits and three walks. He struck out four, giving him an AL-best 235 in his final start of the season.

Nick Blackburn replaced Santana and the Tigers took advantage.

Blackburn (0-1) gave up six runs -- four earned -- and seven hits in the fourth.

"They just knocked the ball all over the place for that inning, and that ended up being enough with the rain again," Gardenhire said.

On Blackburn's second pitch, Hessman started the scoring barrage with a homer to left-center. Five Tigers followed with one-out hits, ending with Magglio Ordonez's RBI single that ended Blackburn's night.

Ordonez was replaced by a pinch-runner and the crowd chanted "MVP! MVP!" as he returned to the dugout. He was 1-for-2 and his major league-leading .359 batting average gives him a shot to be the first Tiger to win a batting crown since Norm Cash in 1961.

Detroit starter Jair Jurrjens gave up four runs in three innings, and his rough night ended with the rain delay. Tim Byrdak (3-0) earned the win with two scoreless innings -- giving up one hit and walking two.

The Twins have to win their final four games at Boston to avoid their first losing season since 2000.

"Hopefully, this season will teach all of us a lot," Santana said. "We need to learn from this experience and be more consistent as players."

Game notes
Leyland is scheduled to meet with Tigers president Dave Dombrowski the day after the regular season ends, and the manager wants to have his contract extended. "I hope that when I leave Monday, I will be the manager of the Tigers through 2009," he said before the game. ... Catcher Ivan Rodriguez isn't sure if the Tigers are going to pick up his $13 million option for next season, but he does know how he feels about his four years in Detroit. "The team, the fans and the city have been absolutely great to me," he said. ... Santana's streak of pitching at least five straight innings was easily the longest in franchise history, leading Frank Viola's run of 38 in a row in 1987 and 1988. ... The Tigers added one double to their season total of 342, putting them seven away from tying the franchise record set in 1934.