Outside the Detroit clubhouse, inside a yellow van parked in a loading area, a few boxes labeled ”Dom Perignon” provided a reminder of an opportunity missed – but not lost.
The Tigers fell short in their effort to clinch the AL Central title during the final homestand of the season, losing 6-3 to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday. There would be no champagne-soaked celebration – only a resolute belief that postseason baseball will be back in Motown this year anyway.
”Everybody wanted to clinch at home,” Detroit’s Brayan Pena said. ”But it doesn’t matter how we do it. We just want to do it, because if we do it, everybody knows that we’re coming back here. And those fans, they really deserve that.”
Detroit needed a win and a Cleveland loss to wrap up the division Sunday, and neither happened. So the Tigers’ magic number for the AL Central championship remains at two at the start of a six-game road trip.
One thing is certain: Detroit’s season will not be over after 162 games. The loss by Texas at Kansas City on Sunday means the worst the Tigers can do is finish in a tie for a wild card.
Chicago’s Erik Johnson (2-2) allowed two runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings in his fourth career start, and the White Sox held on a day after blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning against the Tigers.
Anibal Sanchez (14-8) yielded four runs and eight hits in five innings, taking his first loss since July 19.
Prince Fielder homered for the Tigers. Detroit was without slugger Miguel Cabrera, who has been bothered by groin soreness. Cabrera said he hopes he can play Monday.
The Tigers gave themselves a chance to clinch at Comerica Park with a stirring comeback Saturday night, when they scored six runs in the ninth inning to tie the game before winning 7-6 in 12.
”No matter where we are, as long as we clinch and we get it done, that’ll let me know that postseason is there,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. ”All I care about is the World Series. I think if you set your goals high, and you chase the ultimate goal, which is the World Series, I think everything else falls in line.”
Detroit never led Sunday, and by the middle innings the chances of a postgame celebration were looking increasingly remote for the defending American League champions.
”Disappointment is such a big word,” Hunter said. ”I don’t know if we’re disappointed. We wish we could have had a chance to do it here in front of the fans who have been supporting us all year.”
Fielder tied it at 1 in the fourth with his 25th homer of the year, but Chicago answered with three runs in the fifth. Center fielder Austin Jackson got a bit of a late jump on Conor Gillaspie’s line drive, which sailed over his head for a two-run triple. Avisail Garcia’s RBI single made it 4-1.
Jeff Keppinger added a two-run double in the seventh.
There would be no big rally by the Tigers on this day. Detroit did load the bases in the seventh, and Jackson hit a sacrifice fly. Donnie Veal relieved Johnson and got Hunter, who was pinch-hitting, to line out to end the inning.
On Saturday, the Tigers scored five runs in the ninth before an out or a pitching change. This time, pinch-hitter Pena led off with a double, and White Sox manager Robin Ventura immediately pulled Veal. Matt Lindstrom got the final three outs, although Detroit did manage another run.
”We had that feeling in the dugout,” Hunter said. ”Guys were talking about it: `Uh oh. Can we do it two nights in a row?”’
The 23-year-old Johnson pitched six scoreless innings against Minnesota in his previous start, and although he struck out only one against the Tigers, he was able to avoid the big inning.
”He did a good job going against a tough lineup,” Ventura said. ”He stayed out of trouble. That’s great composure for a kid as old as he is.”
Sanchez had won seven straight decisions and entered with an American League-leading 2.51 ERA, but he didn’t look sharp. Chicago took the lead right away when Sanchez allowed a one-out single to Alexei Ramirez, threw a wild pitch and gave up an RBI single to Garcia.
NOTES: Garcia, Keppinger and Detroit’s Alex Avila had three hits each. … Detroit plays at Minnesota on Monday night, with RHP Justin Verlander (13-12) taking on RHP Mike Pelfrey (5-13). … The White Sox host Toronto. Chicago LHP Jose Quintana (8-6) faces LHP J.A. Happ (4-6).