Tigers clinch second straight AL Central title

Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg, move over. You have company in Miguel Cabrera.

Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg, move over. You have company in Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera.

When Detroit clinched the American League Central Division title with a 6-3 victory at Kansas City on Monday, Cabrera joined Cobb and Greenberg on the short list of players who have led the Tigers to back-to-back playoff appearances.

Cobb's Tigers lost three straight World Series, 1907 through 1909. Greenberg led Detroit to an AL pennant in 1934 and a World Series title in 1935, when Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was six years old.

Cabrera, who helped the Tigers reach the AL Championship Series last year, is in the middle of a fierce MVP debate in 2012. But no one can question his place in the history books.

In the clinching game, Cabrera had four hits, including his 44th homer of the season. He now leads the American League in batting average, homers and RBIs, and is two games away from becoming baseball's first Triple Crown winner since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Fans of advanced statistics argue that even a Triple Crown shouldn't be enough for Cabrera to beat out Angels phenom Mike Trout for the MVP. That's an argument his teammates find insane.

"This is Miguel's team," said first baseman Prince Fielder, who is only with the Tigers because Victor Martinez was lost to a fluke knee injury during the offseason. "I'm just here to help him. He's the man. He's the Triple Crown winner."

Justin Verlander won last year's MVP and is a favorite for his second straight Cy Young Award. He joins Fielder in singing Cabrera's praises.

"He's unbelievable," said Verlander, who has been openly campaigning for Cabrera to win the MVP. "That's the only word that describes him. He's the best player in the game."

Cabrera isn't thinking about achievements or awards -- at least not of a personal nature.

"This is unbelievable," Cabrera told FOX Sports Detroit's John Keating, moments after the final out. "There were a lot of expectations on us, and no one thought we could catch the White Sox.

"But we did it. Hopefully, we can go all the way."

No one was more emotional during the celebration than manager Jim Leyland. His contract ends at the end of the season, and there were many times when it seemed unlikely he'd be back next season.

Even now, as he joins Hughie Jennings as the only Tigers managers to take them to three postseason appearances, he doesn't know if he'll be in Lakeland next April.

Still, Leyland made a point of thanking Detroit's fans, whether they cheered him or booed him.

"The three million in Detroit who came out to see us -- I can't thank them enough," said Leyland, fighting back tears. "It's been a tough year. In this business, you have to be able to take some hits -- some justified and some maybe not. I'm a tough old bird, and I can take some hits.

"This is about those three million, and the people who couldn't afford to show up but were with us in spirit. Thank you, every one of you."

The Tigers could have clinched earlier in the evening with a Cleveland win over the White Sox, but that didn't happen.

Chicago routed the Indians 11-0, giving the Tigers a chance to finish the race on their own terms.

"We weren't concerned about that game," Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson said. "We stayed focused on what we had to do. When you can go out and choose your own fate, that's a great thing."

Instead, the party started in the ninth when Alcides Escobar hit a two-out grounder up the middle. Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta fielded the ball near second base and fired to Fielder for the final out.

"This is special," said Peralta, who homered off Bruce Chen to break a scoreless tie in the fifth. "We worked hard for this and we all deserve it."

While Cabrera celebrated with Tigers fans on the field, most of his teammates were soaking the clubhouse with champagne.

"This is the greatest feeling," Verlander said. "We want to go all the way, but it starts right here -- making the playoffs and having a chance."

The Tigers have meaningless games on Tuesday and Wednesday, then a pair of off days before starting the postseason Saturday at Comerica Park.
Leyland can use those four days to make sure his team is fully rested for Game One of the division series, but one player wants desperately to be on the field.

"I need to pitch on Wednesday," said Max Scherzer, who has been battling a shoulder problem. "I need to get some work. I haven't pitched in a long time, and I've been getting myself ready for the playoffs.

"I need to get sharp so I can help us go all the way."

Scherzer's health is one of the biggest question marks facing the Tigers as they head into the playoffs. He's gone 9-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 15 starts since July 1, but hasn't been able to pitch more than six innings since Sept. 7.

Combined with Verlander, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, a healthy Scherzer would send the Tigers into the playoffs with one of the toughest rotations in baseball.

"He is definitely going to pitch on Wednesday," Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said of Scherzer's status. "I don't know if he will be starting or not."

Verlander will start the show Saturday at Comerica, although he might not know until Thursday which team he'ill be facing. As of now, it could still be Baltimore, New York, Oakland or Texas.

No matter which team they get next -- and despite the stellar pitching and the outstanding offensive performances from players like Fielder and Austin Jackson -- there's no question who will be leading the Tigers into October.

As Cabrera finally entered the clubhouse, he was immediately swarmed by his teammates, doused in cheap champagne and serenaded with a simple chant:

"M-V-P! M-V-P!"

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